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Movie Review: Total Recall

August 3, 2012
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When plans were announced to remake the sci-fi classic Total Recall (1990), they were largely met with skepticism. Most people still hold the original in high regard, so why mess with a good thing? Adding fuel to the fire was the questionable choice of replacing Arnold Schwarzenegger with Colin Farrell this time around. One look at Ah-nuld and there was not a shadow of a doubt that he could kick anyone’s ass, but Farrell?  Not so much. However, the filmmakers made the wise decision to differentiate this version from the original by revamping the story rather than remaking it directly. Whether or not this remake is warranted is still open to debate, but it will satisfy those seeking a big, loud, action-packed orgy of explosions, hand to hand combat and requisite female eye candy.

I won’t go into the plot in great detail, not because I don’t want to spoil it, but I am cursed with an inability to summarize non-linear storylines efficiently.  In Recall, most of earth is now uninhabitable thanks to bouts of chemical warfare and bombings. These areas are dubbed“no-zones”. The remaining areas are highly prized, and the common folk of “The Colony” try to protect their territory from the “United Federation of Britain”,the ruling class of elites who use their money and power to bully the less fortunate members of The Colony.

Doug Quaid (Farrell) is a blue collar worker who works for the UFB, assembling robot sentries that protect and serve the UFB. The irony that he is building a weapon largely responsible for his own colony’s oppression seems to be lost on Doug. Every night he returns home to his uber hot wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) and crappy apartment in The Colony. He suffers from recurring nightmares that prominently feature a woman (Jessica Biel) he doesn’t recognize. After experiencing a disappointment at work, Doug decides to visit Rekall, a company that promises to give you memories of the life you always wanted. Doug chooses the life of a spy, and no sooner does the process begin then the office is raided by UFB authorities claiming he is a traitor. Doug quickly learns he possesses a skill set he wasn’t aware he had as he single-handedly takes out a whole room of police. Has his fantasy begun, or is this real?  The remainder of the movie features Doug trying to ascertain who he really is, and on which side his true loyalties lie.  He quickly joins forces with Melina, the girl from his dreams who is one of the leaders of the resistance against the UFB.

Director Len Wiseman (also Beckinsale’s husband) has created an impressive world with spectacular special effects. The Colony looks like the dystopian landscape of Blade Runner; a hodge-podge of eastern and western influences, bizarre dress and claustrophobic dreariness. Hovercrafts are the transportation of choice (the chase scenes are quite thrilling), and people who find it cumbersome to carry around a phone can simply have one implanted in their hand.

Farrell’s version of Doug works because this character is more of a Jason Bourne type-relying more on smarts and instinct instead of pure muscle mass.  Beckinsale looks fantastic, but she really, really wants to convince us she’s a badass, as evidenced by her permanent snarl and icy glares.  It’s a bit much for an entire movie. Biel just doesn’t have a lot of screen presence. She’s beautiful, but boring, getting overshadowed by Beckinsale every time they share the screen.

If I have one major complaint, it would be that there is almost too much action in the film. This is the typical sequence of events: fight, flee and jump. Repeat over and over and over again. I have never seen the jumping-to-certain-death-yet-miraculously-surviving device so overused.  Doug, Melina and Lori jump off buildings, onto cars, into elevators, on top of elevators, off of elevators, across rooftops, into windows and anywhere else a leap can be had. I know it’s just a movie, but after all that, no one suffers as much as a sprained ankle. A touch of realism would have been nice.   Beckinsale and Biel beat the holy living crap out of each other, more than once, but Beckinsale doesn’t even get a scratch, much less a bruise (Biel does get one lone scratch). I know the women are there to look good, but I like to see characters bloodied and battered a bit.  Beckinsale’s villainess always has her hair down, gorgeously framing her face. Any woman serious about kicking some ass would pull those extensions back in a ponytail, and they certainly wouldn’t be wearing high heels as they attempt to traverse rooftops and dangerous terrain. At least Biel’s character is a little more practical. She wears a ponytail and utilitarian cargo pants (and still looks gorgeous).  Guess which woman comes out the victor? It seems pretty obvious that Wiseman set out to ensure his wife looks amazing in every shot (she does), to the detriment of her character.

Wiseman’s Recall also lacks the humor that the original had. The Schwarzenegger version had a certain camp quality to it, but this one takes itself very seriously. There’s no real fun, it’s been supplanted by action. I don’t think any of Farrell’s quotes will live on in infamy to be repeated by fanboys 30 years later. This remake is serviceable, but it will be quickly forgotten.

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