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Total Recall (2012)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Mars Barred"
1 stars

In both the original 1990 version of "Total Recall," not to mention "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale," the 1966 short story by the late sci-fi author Philip K. Dick that started it all in the first place, the plot is launched by a seemingly innocent trip to Rekall, a company that can artificially implant memories of any event of your choice that are so realistic and vivid that you could swear that they were the real thing. The trick, however, is that whatever fantasy you com up with, you cannot have already done it in real life--I cannot ask to be placed at a 25th anniversary screening of the restored version of "Ishtar" and seated between Milla Jovovich and Lea Seydoux if that miracle has already occurred--or the conflict between the authentic memories and the simulacra could cause irreversible brain damage. Alas, the makers of the new version of "Total Recall" have failed to pay attention to that danger and have created a film that ironically suffers from that very same problem in the way that it assaults our memories of a perfectly good movie with a slapdash rehash of poorly integrated bits from the earlier work and new elements that not only fail to top what has come before but which don't even work on the level of a standard-issue f/x-heavy action epic. To be fair, the end result probably will not actually cause catatonia in anyone who watches it but there is an excellent chance that most viewers will come out of it at least feeling bored out of their minds.

In the not-too-distant future, the world as we know it is rendered almost completely uninhabitable due to pollution and the like to the point where there only two places left on the planet for people to live--the hoity-toity New Federation of Britain for the elite and the ugly and overcrowded Colony for all the lower-class working stiffs--connected by a massive elevator that, if I recall correctly (no pun intended) hurtles the workers to and from their jobs at lightning speed. One of those have-nots is Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), an ordinary and unassuming dope who spends his days in a factory cranking out robot soldiers on the orders of Federation leader Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) and his nights in a squalid apartment with beautiful and devoted wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) and a head filled with bizarre dreams in which he is some kind of kick-ass secret agent type doing battle alongside equally beautiful and devoted freedom fighter Melina (Jessica Biel). One night, Quaid decides to take a walk on the wild side by going to the local Rekall outlet--which essentially looks like a "massage parlor" for all intents and purposes, possibly because it more or less is--in order to go on a real mind trip based on his recurring dreams. Just as the Rekall program is about to kick in, an emergency develops when a scan reveals that Quaid apparently really is a secret agent and that what he thinks have merely been vivid dreams are apparently actual memories of an existence that he cannot otherwise remember.

That sounds crazy but when a bunch of soldiers burst into the facility and the theoretically untrained Quaid wipes them all out in an instant, he is at least willing to entertain the possibility. Those suspicions grow even larger when he makes it home to tell Lori what happened and she responds by a.) beating the crap out of him and b.) revealing that she is not actually his real wife but one of Cohaagen's top operatives who has been assigned to keep tabs on the recently brainwashed Quaid on his orders. Once again, Quaid manages to narrowly escape once again. Eventually, he runs into Melina once again and she fills in more of the puzzle by telling him that he is apparently really Hauser, Cohaagen's former right-hand man before he jumped ship to join up with resistance leader Matthias (Bill Nighy) and that he apparently carries information in his head about Cohaagen's planned invasion of the Colony that both sides desperately want. With Lori and endless waves of robot cops hot on his heels, Quaid finds himself in a desperate race against time to find Matthias, retrieve the information from his head and single-handedly save the Colony from attack. That, of course, is all assuming that everything is on the up and up and that he is not the victim of paranoid delusions or any double-crosses and after all, what are the chances of that happening?

As readers of "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" can attest, Philip K. Dick came up with a brilliant concept for a story but not necessarily one that lent itself to an easy translation from the page to the screen, though this could be said for practically all of Dick's published work. Back in the 1980's, any number of filmmakers--David Cronenberg among them--struggled with the question of how to transform an essentially unfilmable short story into a full cinematic narrative and it wasn't until Paul Verhoeven, then riding high on the success of his American debut "Robocop," signed on that it finally began to take shape. The central problem was the question of how to reconcile the essentially intellectual nature of the original material with the more action-oriented requirements of the modern-day blockbuster. What Verhoeven and screenwriters did that finally made it all work was create a screenplay that worked on multiple tiers. At its most basic level, the film was a super-violent action thriller of the type that star Arnold Schwarzenegger was famous for at the time--a wildly over-the-top extravaganza filled with incredible levels of gore, eye-popping special effects (literally at one point), sexy dames, massive action sequences any number of ironic quips used to punctuate the mayhem. In other words, Verhoeven transformed the story into something that did indeed fulfill the craven cravings of the typical multiplex denizens even as Dick's legion of fans protested what they perceived as being the utter perversion of a once-great story.

At the same time, Verhoeven took the aforementioned action film conventions and pushed them to such deliberately ridiculous extremes that the entire project was transformed into a sly satire of itself. To underline this point, Verhoeven even had the sheer nerve to bring on a character at the midway point who essentially tells the characters on the screen and the people in the audience exactly what will transpire during the rest of the story and then proceeds to follow that path precisely. At the same time, the film also maintained a powerful sense of ambiguity throughout regarding the question of whether what we were seeing was actually happening or was in fact the dream/delusion of its hero--even at the very end, a case could be made for either interpretation. By keeping things on an ambiguous level, the very things that might have appeared at first glance to be the ordinary vulgarities of that kind of filmmaking--the ridiculous levels of violence and bloodshed in which the good guy can slaughter hundreds of people but the bad guys are incapable of laying a finger on him, the often ludicrous plot turns, a Neanderthal take on women in which the most memorable members of the female gender were the cast-iron bitch played by Sharon Stone and a mutant hooker with three breasts, and even the casting of an oversize hulk like Arnold Schwarzenegger in a role that might have been more logically played by the likes of Richard Dreyfuss or Jeff Bridges in their younger years--wound up making sense in a weird kind of way because they were precisely the things that an ordinary moviegoer at the time might have come up with if he were asked to dream up the ultimate adventure fantasy. As a result, a film that at first glance appeared to be nothing more than just another dopey blockbuster turned out to be, on a second viewing, to be both one of the more effective screen translations of Dick's brain-busting ideas--at least in spirit--and a brilliant deconstruction of the tenets of that sort of filmmaking.

Based on the available evidence, however, it appears as though director Len Wiseman only saw the original film the one time and the end result is exactly the kind of "Total Recall" that one might expect from the guy who gave us both the "Underworld" saga and the first PG-13 "Die Hard" movie. Perhaps inevitability, every bit of the ambiguity that Verhoven carefully cultivated has been ruthlessly stripped away and what remains is nothing more than a mediocre version of the kind of empty-headed spectacle that he was alternately critiquing and goofing on. Instead, the screenplay is roughly divided between elements lifted from the original film and new stuff thrown into the mix in an attempt to change things up--instead of hurtling to Mars, the adventure takes us to a no-man's-land so terrifying that it can be reached via subway! You know, even at his absolute cheapest, even Roger Corman himself would never have dared to suggest replacing a trip to Mars by having his characters taking the D train. Okay, Godard might have but dammit, he would have made it work!

The trouble is that the new stuff is as boring and derivative as can be--one could start up a fairly effective drinking game based on players calling out the titles of every popular sci-fi film that is knocked off here--while the callbacks to the original either make no sense in the context of the new narrative or only serve as reminders of just how wild and vital the original one was. The performances run the gamut from Farrell's surprisingly bland turn as Quaid that lacks the nuance that Schwarzenegger brought to the part to the risible miscasting of Bryan Cranston as the big baddie to the downright awful work from Beckinsale and Biel, both of whom go through their paces as though they are in the middle of the world's most elaborate "Maxim" photo shoot. While the visual style this time around is certainly sleeker than the original, which looked a bit clunk even back in the day, there isn't a single interesting shot to be had and the chase scenes all look the same as people run across the rooftops while jumping from one level to the next with such frequency and ease that it seems as if Nintendo did the city planning.

Lacking energy, intelligence or even creative violence (most of those who get gunned down or chopped up are robots, a move that takes away most of the visceral thrills but which does protect the all-important PG-13 rating), "Total Recall" has any number of enormous flaws but the biggest one by far is that it never for a second manages to justify its existence. Sure, there are plenty of scenes featuring gunfire, fistfights, chases and the admirable end results of Beckinsale and Biel's gym workouts but they never add up to anything more than the cinematic equivalent of white noise. Whether you look at it as a new version of a genuine classic or as a separate film in its own right, the end result is almost shocking in just how blandly forgettable the whole thing is. Funny how a film that is supposed to be at least in part about creating vivid and lasting memories fails so completely in doing so itself.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23712&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/02/12 21:02:30
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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
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  03-Aug-2012 (PG-13)
  DVD: 18-Dec-2012


  DVD: 18-Dec-2012

Directed by
  Len Wiseman

Written by
  Kurt Wimmer
  Mark Bomback

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

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