Total Recall

Posted: September 20, 2012 in Film reviews

Directed by Len Wiseman. Starring Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel.

It’s the late 21st Century and average guy Doug Quaid (Farrell) has a boring life—well boring despite him living in the future, and being married to Kate Beckinsale—he has a daily commute and works on a production line. It should be added at this point that his daily commute involves taking a tube ride through the centre of the Earth, and he helps make killer robots, seriously it’s hard to feel any sympathy for the guy.

In an attempt to liven up his humdrum (??) existence he visits Recall, a company who can implant fake memories, making you think you’ve been a sporting legend, or a millionaire playboy, or that perhaps you’re married to Kate Beckinsale and build killer robots…ahem. The trouble is, if the fake memories Recall try and implant conflict with real memories, it can cause serious damage. So there should be no problem with Quaid getting fake memories of being a spy…unless of course he really was a spy…

Before you can say Arnold Schwarzenegger Quaid is punching and shooting his way through a bunch of cops. On the run he goes home to discover his loving wife is actually a trained killer, and suddenly the chase is on. Can he figure out why his memory has been replaced, will he understand why Kate Beckinsale wants to kill him so bad, will he solve the mystery of why that hooker had three boobs?*

(* Warning; not all of these questions will be answered)

My viewing of this film got off to a less than auspicious start when I had a momentary memory lapse when I went to get my ticket and couldn’t remember the name of the film. Perhaps this was a sign, or perhaps, like Recall and the memory implant, if you go and see a film you’ve already seen it makes your brain melt?

Because this is, of course, a remake of the Arnie original from 20 or so years ago. With this in mind the film begins by advising us that the studio responsible for this picture is “Original Film.”

When chatter first began suggesting this was being made, all involved made it very clear that rather than a remake of Paul Verhoeven’s original, this film would be based on Phillip K Dick’s short story. Sadly this is not the case. This is a remake of the 1990 film, and any elements from the short story in this are ones that arrived via the original film.

I don’t have a huge problem with this, but they could at least be upfront about it. It’s like the film I Am Legend a few years ago, which proclaimed it was going back to the source material of the novel, but which in actual fact was just a remake of the Omega Man (only not as good).

The best/ and perversely the worst thing I can say about this film is that it’s ok. It’s not terrible, it’s perfectly diverting and enjoyable in its own right, but…

There are some nice ideas on show. The idea of a tunnel through the earth linking the Colony (Australia) with the United Federation of Britain (Guess) is bonkers, and makes little sense, but at least it shows a shred of imagination.  Design wise the film is a visual feast, from sprawling cityscapes to grey fog drenched chemical wastelands; it’s a shame that in some respects a lot is stuff we’ve seen before. Blade Runner is great but you can take homage a little too far, and the rain drenched, Chinese inspired look of the colony in particular just makes you wish you were at home watching Harrison Ford fight Rutger Hauer.

Similarly the look of the film seems to jar with the background we’re given. Overpopulation is an issue, yet the Colony never seems that overcrowded, and in a world where the technology exists to build a tunnel through the earth’s core, where synthetic life forms can be created, where flying cars exist and memories can be simulated, the notion that they can’t reclaim chemically polluted land stretches credulity.

The film features good action sequences, though at times it does seem like one big long chase movie, and often it does look a little bit too much like a computer game, and its telling that perhaps the best set piece of the film involves a fight between three humans and a robot in a lift—sometimes less is more, and whilst the eleborate lift system itself makes for a good backdrop, it again seems implausible, like it only exists to facilitate the action, rather than being a tangible location in itself.

Cast wise Beckinsale is the best thing in it. I’ve never been a huge fan of hers but she’s excellent here, imbuing a one note character with far more life than she deserves, and dishing out barbed dialogue and high kicks with equal aplomb.

Farrell is ok. He does bewildered very well and given his character’s somewhat confused state this works well up to a point, unfortunately it also means he never really nails the characters he’s supposed to be playing. He’s ok as Quaid, although it’s a fairly simplistic good guy template, but he never really clicks as Hauser. Comparing this to the original (and it’s impossible not to if you have any familiarity with the 1990 version) Arnie did a much better job of playing two characters. His Quaid and Hauser are very different, whereas here Hauser is mainly differentiated by having a beard…

Biel is, frankly, forgettable.

Bryan Cranston is always good value, but even so his Cohaagen lacks the levels of corporate sleaze that Ronny Cox could do in his sleep.

Bill Nighy and John Cho round out the cast, but are really nothing more than cameos.

Plotwise, it isn’t so much that there are gaping holes, rather than things just obviously weren’t thought out. Why does Hauser/Quaid’s cop friend help him at the end? Why is Nighy’s resistance movement such a threat if they weren’t behind any of the bombings? And why is the Colony so terrified of invasion when all they have to do is drop a load of bombs down on the tube train/shuttle coming towards them? In fact why can’t they gain independence by simply blocking off one end of the tunnel?

And of course, the biggest question of all, where did the three boobed hooker come from? In the original she made sense, she was a mutant, and there were lots of mutants. Here…well she seems to just be here because she was in the original.

Like I say, this isn’t a bad film, and if this were a generic sci-fi film it would be perfectly serviceable, but as a remake to an original film that had so much more verve it can’t help but be found wanting, and despite a few exciting set pieces, and a couple of amusing nods to the original film, it lacks the energy to be remotely memorable. So consider this a divorce…

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