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Total Recall Starts Strong But Crumbles Under Action Overload

Total Recall
Directed by Len Wiseman
Written by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback from the screen story by Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, Jon Povill, and Wimmer from the short story “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick
Sony, 2012

I haven’t seen the original Total Recall in awhile, and I’ve forgotten a lot of it.  What I remember is that it was at the height of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s superstardom and Paul Verhoeven was at the top of his game, and it was a really fun sci-fi film that you would expect from both of those men.  Verhoeven was coming off of Robocop, a movie that would be re-evaluated as a classic (or at least cult classic) over time (much like his later Starship Troopers).  Schwarzenegger had become not only a tremendous action star but someone who did movies with great fun in mind: he was very aware of his screen presence and the movies were filled with not only action, but good-natured humor.

We come into the remake of Total Recall knowing that it’s completely unnecessary, and being helmed by Len Wiseman, who brought us two awful Underworld movies and that overly ridiculous Live Free and Die Hard.  But it really looks cool in trailers, and in fact, it is really cool.  The movie doesn’t have any shortage of cool, but there’s a point where this becomes too much of an action spectacle and not enough plot-driven sci-fi, and that’s where it starts to tumble.

In Total Recall, Douglas Quaid (Colin Ferrell) is a lowly factory worker from a place known as The Colony, or the former Australia.  It is one of the only inhabitable places on Earth after chemical warfare: the other is the Federation of Great Britain, which is the evil empire of the film.  People travel from The Colony to FGB by an awesome transport known as “The Fall” (something that theoretically has been tossed around as a way to make travel quicker: by going through the core of the Earth in a free-fall manner).  He’s married to the super-hot Lori (Kate Beckinsale), but he is haunted by dreams of being a secret agent with his super-hot partner Melina (Jessica Biel).  He’s friends with Harry (Bokeem Woodbine), and they drink and discuss life, and Quaid would like to go to Rekall, a lounge where you can get fake memories implanted, to the point that you feel like you really did those things you dream about.

When Quaid goes to Rekall, he’s given the drugs…but then his session is cut short when Rekall finds out who he is.  Apparently, Quaid is really a secret agent named Carl Hauser, and it’s his real life that is a lie, and his real memories have been erased.  Not long after, he’s blowing away government agents led by the movie’s antagonist, Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), who has been manipulating the people into a civil war for his own gains.  Cohaagen wants Quaid/Hauser alive for some reason.  Thus, the chase begins, and eventually Quaid/Hauser runs into Melinda, and he finds out that whoever he was, he has to figure out what is right with as little knowledge as possible.

The movie has a lot of cool gadgets and great visuals (it owes a lot to Minority Report, the Spielberg film co-starring Ferrell and also based on Philip K. Dick), and this is fun for about the first half.  In the second half, this becomes less about ideas, plot, and characters, and it becomes a free-for-all gun-blasting fest.  Still, it might be good enough to make this a hit when all is said and done, since general audiences are going to get hooked by the coolness that the movie provides in spades.  Action scenes are pretty well done but can get repetitive: the first time you see Quaid go through the neverending free-fall of the city, it’s pretty awesome, but then there’s an “elevator” scene that pretty much goes through the same territory.  Then after those set pieces, it’s just gunfire and explosions aplenty.

This is a pretty good matinee film if you’re looking to kill time.


Comment from Jonathan
Time: August 6, 2012, 2:58 pm

I enjoyed this as well; maybe even a little more than you. I found a couple of the action set pieces toward the end of the film quite a bit of fun, but I do agree that this is by no means “Thinking” man’s sci-fi and maybe could have used a little more of that.

The parts that I found annoying were the scenes were they were trying to pay homage to the original (which I have viewed quite frequently over the years; it might be my 2nd or 3rd favorite Arnie film). There was the bit where the woman who goes through the detector is not Farrell, but would have been Arnold in the first one. But the three breasted prostitue kind of threw me. Because since…spoiler alert…there is barely a brief mention of Mars, where did this woman come from. I always assumed in the original it was supposed to be an alien, but there is no mention of us having anything to do with aliens in this film. Silly nitpick I guess, but I just found it confusing.

Overall, fun sci-fi action flick. Won’t make you forget the original by any means, but a good time at the cinema. After last summer’s “Fright Nigh” and now this, I wonder what 80’s/90’s remake Collin Farrell will be a part of for next August.

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