Friday, August 3, 2012

Relentlessly Adequate: Total Recall



This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

I'm of the opinion that the original Total Recall is an awful movie, and by "awful" I mean "amazing." It's so amazing in its awfulness, that it goes full circle and becomes great. It's not something you forget, and I know that because I've only ever seen in once, (sneak preview; night before it opened; at the Galaxy Theater on Van Ness), but I can still quote dialogue and conjure up images of Arnold Schwarzenegger's eyes bulging out of his head like I'd seen it yesterday.

Or is that merely the effect of so many pop cultural references throughout the years, acting as a virtual "Rekall" of memories that are actually quite dim?

I'll never know for sure.

The remake, (and it is a remake, sticking a little closer to the 1990 film than the Phillip K. Dick story that inspired it), is pretty unnecessary because it's relentlessly adequate. The effects are good. The acting is fine. There are some pretty thrilling action sequences.

But there's no Mars. There's no Kuato! There's never a touching plea to "give this people air!" And there's definitely no exploding eyeballs.

But there is a woman with three boobs; better than nothing?

This Total Recall is completely Earthbound, set near the end of the 21st century. The planet has become virtually uninhabitable, with only two areas giving home to the population. The powerful sector is what used to be England and parts of Europe. The poor sector, dubbed the Colony, is on the other side of the planet, in what was once Australia. The two areas are connected by a giant chunnel called the Fall that serves as the daily commute train for the workers who live in the Colony, but work in the United Federation of Britain.

Colin Farrell is Doug Quaid, one of those workers. During the day he commutes from the Colony and welds parts onto an ever-growing army of robotic peacekeepers. At night he comes home to his hot wife, Lori, (Kate Beckinsale), and has nightmares about being shot at while fighting robots with a mystery woman named Melina (Jessica Biel).

Because life on Earth is so miserable, a technology company called "Rekall" will, for a price, implant false memories into one's brain, so that even if you'll never be able to visit the lush islands of Hawaii while bedding babes and fighting ninjas, you can at least think you once did.

Despite warnings about the dangers of Rekall from his his wife and his best friend Harry (Bokeem Woodbine), Quaid finds this an impossible lure to resist, and decides to get himself some fake memories involving exciting espionage and super agents. But before Harold can complete the memory transfer, it's revealed that Quaid might really be a super agent, and all hell breaks lose.

But is Quaid really a super agent? Or did the memory implantation actually happen? An intriguing thought, yes, but one the movie never really follows up on. And that's a shame.

Quaid soon learns his loving wife is actually a skilled assassin, the woman from his dreams is real, and Kohaagen, (Bryan Cranston and his wig), the leader of the UFB, wants him captured alive.

What follows is a lot of scenes of Farrell duking it out with Beckingsale, (she's done this thing a lot before in the Underworld movies, which are also directed by Recall's director Len Wiseman, who is also her husband; don't get me started on the fetishistic implications surrounding THAT relationship), running away from robocops with Jessica Biel, and speedy chases in hover cars.

And all of that stuff looks great. The hover car chase is particularly fun, and sticks to some plausible science (magnets!) that provides a good pay-off. Wiseman has a good handle on action sequences, even if he is more in love with lens flare than J.J. Abrams. (Seriously. If you played a drinking game centered around each time a lens flare appears on screen, you'd die of liquor poisoning within the film's first 30 minutes.)

The cities, especially the Colony, borrow a lot from the look of Blade Runner, with constant rain, a general Asian influence, and skyscrapers that push the term to its limit. And being that the movies are both based on Phillip K. Dick works, this adds a nice sense of symmetry to the universes.

I also like that there's not one, but two very competent, kick ass women in the story, even if they aren't developed much past their ability to look pissed off and kick guys in the chest

And yet, none of this is enough of a reason to see it. There's hardly any humor in it, but it also doesn't take itself seriously enough to be a thoughtful story about the nature of reality, memories, and identity. It's like the creators saw the first movie, and then had every memorable moment from that movie erased from their minds, and replaced them with scenes from other capable but ultimately forgettable science fiction movies

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