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Overall Rating
2.1

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 3.23%
Just Average: 29.03%
Pretty Crappy41.94%
Sucks: 25.81%

4 reviews, 7 user ratings


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Total Recall (2012)
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by Brett Gallman

"Len Wiseman remembers it for you wholesale."
2 stars

1990 was only 22 years ago on conventional calendars, but in Hollywood years, it might as well have been a lifetime ago since there’s a whole generation of movie-goers to which it can resell “Total Recall.” And that’s okay--there have also been plenty of budgetary and technological advances during that time, too, maybe even enough to justify another pass at material that was mined into a cult classic all those years ago. However, the effort here just reveals one resounding truth: all the money and technology in the world can’t buy the imagination and vision of a Paul Verhoeven, as this “Total Recall” isn’t just a case of déjà vu--it’s a case of sanitized, flavorless recycling.

Whatever changes are made here are mostly cosmetic, and one only has to look at the major one--the lack of Mars setting--as being representative of the thorough lack of imagination and ingenuity on display here. Instead of blasting off to the Red Planet, this Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell subbing in for Arnold Schwarzenegger) finds himself caught between a Utopian British empire and a third world colony that emerges after a devastating biological war laid waste to the rest of the planet. Haunted by a recurring dream involving a girl (Jessica Biel), Quaid finds himself dissatisfied with his humdrum life as a colony factory worker (even though it’s allowed him to marry Kate Beckinsale), so he indulges Rekall, a local company that peddles one’s deepest fantasies.

Quaid decides he wants to play secret agent in the ongoing war between the colony’s freedom fighters and Chancellor Cohaagan’s (Bryan Cranston) tyrannical regime, but it’s soon revealed that he already is embroiled in this conflict, only he doesn’t remember it. So he finds himself on the run, desperately trying to uncover just what’s going on. “If I’m not me, then who the hell am I?” he asks, just like Arnold did with a more humorous inflection back in 1990.

If nothing else, the film doesn’t have much of an identity crisis--this is the gritty, witless, and altogether dull retread of Verhoeven’s film. Instead of going back and reworking the Phillip Dick short story into something fresh, Len Wiseman and company have essentially used the first film as a blueprint, only it’s been scrubbed of all the over-the-top violence and black humor. This is a more straight-laced thriller, one that feels a little more grounded despite the obvious science-fiction tropes. Gone is the heightened, absurdist approach that made Verhoeven’s “Total Recall” a perfect mass of 80s excess rolled up and reflected onto itself, replaced with a soulless polish that makes this film a fine model of redundant filmmaking mechanically churned out by a Hollywood machine. Its most inspired and funny moment comes when producer Neal Moritz’s “Original Film” logo appears at the beginning.

The outrageous violence and one-liners (some of which are replaced with a handful of lame quips) aren’t the only thing that’s missing--there’s just a general dearth of vision at work here. Sure, this world feels bigger and more fully realized since it’s not confined to a bunch of soundstages, and the colony especially resembles the vast, neon-noir cityscape of “Blade Runner.” But it all seems just a little too sleek and shiny; whereas Verhoeven dumped you into sweltering, hazy hellholes populated by mutants with Cronenberg-esque bodily afflictions, Wiseman drops you into a world that’s been sufficiently burnished by lens flares, digital fakery, and pallid color schemes.

Wiseman’s toys and robust budget allow him to try and outdo Verhoeven, at least in the sense that there’s a bunch of set-pieces with a big scope and scale. Two noteworthy ones include a rooftop chase that's rendered like a side-scrolling platform video game and a shootout that sees the camera dart all over the place to a neat effect, but Wiseman is much more interested in this than storytelling. Sure, he’s literally louder than Verhoeven, but he’s shouting with mindless explosions where his predecessor was shouting with a knowing satire.

A prime example of retrograde, tone-deaf filmmaking, this “Total Recall” is the type of dumb, empty experience at which Verhoeven was winking, and it’s especially disheartening because the material has some obvious modern relevance since its built around a struggle between haves and have-nots. As is the case with everything else, though, the original film did more with this during the Regan-era sunset that illuminated this divide in the first place.

For a brief while, “Total Recall” is the sort of remake that has you wondering how it’d fare without the superior original as a reference point since it’s a nice looking, professionally-made film at first glance. At worst, maybe it’d just simply pale when compared to what came before it, if only because it was working from a solid foundation that eventually cracks and crumbles as the film wears on. Dick’s story, as re-imagined by the small army of original screenwriters (Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, Gary Goldman, and Jon Povill), is grand pulp, a sinewy mind-bender that was told with precision and an unrelenting momentum. In the hands of Wiseman, it’s all but bungled, rendered nearly incomprehensible and devoid of mystery as it drones on with the steady hum of white noise. Most of the (few) nips and tucks are baffling decisions that remove tension, while the film’s biggest mind-fuck thuds with the import of every other half-hearted twist and turn.

Wiseman has no flair for the dramatic and misses out on the delightful rug-pulling the story offers since he’s too busy rushing towards the finish line with a bewildering climax where neither the goals nor stakes are very clear. I’m sure of what was accomplished, but I’m not particularly sure how it happened except that explosions and a jet outfitted with a huge chain gun assisted.

I keep hammering on how the film doesn’t compare to the original, but Wiseman’s talent pool is arguably just as impressive. The problem is that he really doesn’t dip into it very much, as just about everyone is uniformly wasted. Colin Farrell is a guy I like, and there’s little doubt he’s a better actor than Schwarzenegger, but, in this case, he’s not even remotely the same towering presence. His Quaid is probably a little more believable as an everyman, and his interactions with both Beckinsale and Biel (who is eventually revealed to be an officer in the resistance) hint at a movie that’s more human than the broad, swinging adventure upon which Schwarzenegger embarked (the original film practically ended like an old-fashioned melodrama), but none of that is explored. Similarly subjected to the thudding blandness is Biel, Bryan Cranston (who is almost literally absent for much of the film despite being the main antagonist), and Bill Nighy, who gets about as much-time as the resistance prophet in the original.

If there’s a bright spot to be found, it’s Kate Beckinsale, who actually steps into both the Sharon Stone role as the secret agent wife and the Michael Ironside role as Quaid’s main pursuant. This might be an excuse for Wiseman to trot out his wife and get her more screen time, but it's a wise move since she pulls it off admirably. She must have been the only one to miss the memo about discarding Verhoeven’s absurd tone because she’s a scene-chewing badass, full of over-the-top line-readings and martial arts sequences. I couldn’t shake a further sense of déjà vu because Wiseman similarly trapped her in the plodding, lifeless “Underworld” movies a decade ago.

I could probably lay off the incessant comparison to the original if “Total Recall” didn’t all but invite it at every turn--make no mistake, Wiseman wants you to know that he remembers that film too, so he peppers this one with little nods. One of them--the three-breasted woman (who is here apropos of nothing since there’s no mutants)--is kind of the unofficial mascot of the original, and she’s a perfect metaphor for these two films. There, she was a symbol of twisted, outlandish excess; here, that third breast is just as meaningless and redundant as this new film.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23712&reviewer=429
originally posted: 08/02/12 01:10:09
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User Comments

8/04/14 reptilesni Exhausting. 10 minutes of plot and the rest is all chase scenes and bland fight scenes. 1 stars
12/07/13 KingNeutron Better than expected, but I wish they had named it something else-Arnie's is classic 4 stars
1/12/13 mr.mike Unneccesary remake lacks the human factor and is fair at best. 3 stars
8/29/12 matthew wood very poorly made there are so many other movies that could be remade like Them! 1 stars
8/22/12 Martha Rios no heat in center of the planet but pretty creative 3 stars
8/06/12 Janine Travel through center of planet somehow stretches credibility more than colonizing Mars. 3 stars
8/04/12 Alex "White noise" indeed. Fizzles despite all the star- and firepower. 2 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  03-Aug-2012 (PG-13)
  DVD: 18-Dec-2012

UK
  N/A

Australia
  03-Aug-2012
  DVD: 18-Dec-2012


Directed by
  Len Wiseman

Written by
  Kurt Wimmer
  Mark Bomback

Cast
  Colin Farrell
  Kate Beckinsale
  Jessica Biel
  Bryan Cranston
  John Cho
  Bill Nighy



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