Friday, August 3, 2012

Total Recall (2012)

A little more than 20 years after Arnold Schwarzenegger and director Paul Verhoeven worked together to give us a theatrical adaptation of Philip K. Dick's short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” Sony Pictures decided to tap Underworld director Len Wiseman for a remake. For fans who remember the original Total Recall, this dumbed-down remake will feel unnecessary and bereft of even a hint of intelligence in front, or behind, the camera.

Gone are the dreams of Mars and mutant rebellion. In their place screenwriters Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback give us a dystopian future where the Earth has become largely uninhabitable with the exception of parts of Britain and Australia. Australia, now referred to simply as "The Colony" is the condensed living quarters of all the worlds' working stiffs including assembly line worker Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell). One of the only bright spots in the film is the imaginative set design that works in futuristic and ancient Asian styles into the creation of The Colony.

The plot, however, if far less imaginative. While housed on the other side of the world, workers are transported to England to work in factories through "The Fall," a giant metal transport tube going through the center of the Earth. You can begin your derision here, but, sadly, this is far from the most ridiculous plot point of the new Total Recall.

As in the original, Quaid finds himself dreaming of a more adventurous life and a mysterious beautiful woman. Jessica Biel takes on Rachel Ticotin's role from the original film as Quaid's love interest he can only barely remember. Wiseman casts his real-life wife Kate Beckinsale in the role of Quaids wife which combines the characters of Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside as the agent sent in to watch Quaid and later goes all-out to kill him against her orders to bring the man in alive.

The dreams, along with his growing dissatisfaction over the state of his life assembling robot armored police units, causes Quaid (a broke assembly line worker who lives in a slum) to pay several hundred credits for implanted memories of a better life at Rekall, an agency that specializes in just such adventures. However, just before his dream vacation as a super-spy can begin something goes wrong as the workers at Rekall discover Quaid is already a top spy who has had his memory severally altered.

Unlike the original film, which lays several hints that Quaid's new reality is nothing more than what he asked for when he sat down in the chair, this version of Total Recall has no real interest in selling the alternative explanation that Quaid's entire journey may be nothing more than a dream. This is odd because the film still tries to deliver the "implanted" person scene (along with several other scenes taking directly out of the first film) whose job it is to convince the man what he's experiencing isn't real, but because we see Quaid's Rekall treatment interrupted before he's even put under there's no reason for us, or him, to buy the alternate possibility here.

Of course logic isn't this movie's friend. There's even a scene involving a hidden video message the old version of Quaid, known as Hauser, leaves for his new self (recorded and somehow smuggled out while in custody, with Quaid's, not Hauser's, haircut), impossibly planted in a super-secret safe deposit box, that's so maddening I wanted to hurl something at the screen.

In place of a power struggle on Mars we get a power-hunger corporate douchebag (Bryan Cranston, who is no Ronny Cox) whose big plan is to use the terrorists to create himself a giant robot army that he can then use to kill whoever he wants, including the labor force that keeps the ultra-clean Britain side of the world working. Did I mention logic doesn't really play a role in this movie?

Total Recall does include a couple of interesting chase sequences such as a three-dimensional maze of elevator jumping, but the script relies far too much on coincidence instead of taking time to think out how and why sequences should occur. In the original movie Quaid is able to get to Mars, and eventually the rebels, through a series of clues left for him by Hauser and others. Here Farrell's character just happens to hit the right key on the piano, or face plant on the street exactly when his rescuer happens to be driving by with nothing better to do than stop and pick him up.

Despite the incredibly long introduction explaining how this version of Earth works, most of the story still hits the beats of the original, just without any finesse or imagination.  Of course it doesn't help that the reveals, double-crosses, and twists all feel as if they were done before - they were, in a much better movie with the exact same title.

I'll take the orignal Total Recall over this kinda pathetic version any day of the week. I don't really need to see Colin Farrell as Jason Bourne or watch Wiseman make his wife look super kick-ass fighting both Farrell and Biel. In the end this new version is exactly what I feared it would be, totally redundant.

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