Monday, August 20, 2012

Review: Total Recall (Len Wiseman, 2012)

               Anothertop anticipated movie of 2012 for me.  Remembering my reaction of the original back in the mid 90s, Total Recall was the epitome for what I believed the future to look like.  Cool looking cars, that drive themselves, giant wall sized TVs and the ability to live on Mars. A more recent viewing of the 1990 classic has me thinking otherwise. Cool looking cars? Well, I guess in the future cars are ¼ the size they are now and travel at 10% the speed. Maybe in the future natural resources are limited. Cars that drive themselves? Not really sci-fi anymore thanks to Google. Giant wall sized TVs? I’m certain my living room TV is larger than the one in Arnold’s home. Mine is also anamorphic widescreen which makes it even better. That blender that Arnie is using to make his breakfast, is sitting in my cabinet at home. And the ability to live on Mars? OK, mankind hasn’t mastered that yet. But we did just land the most sophisticated space probe in the history of NASA. I am also intentionally leaving out the most important sci-fi draw of both movies; the ability to implant memories into people’s head. This is the sci-fi element that drives both films and still remains mastered.

                The two things that worried me about this project were director Len Wiseman and screenwriter Mark Bomback. Bomback is responsible for destroying John McClane’s personality in Live Free or Die Hard (not to mention that wonderful idea of John McClane riding on the back of an F-35) and he also penned the critically acclaimed Race to Witch Mountain. However, Bomback teamed up with Kurt Wimmer this time around, who I am a big fan of. Wimmer gave us, Equilibrium (which put Christian Bale on the map) and the Recruit. Wiseman is most known for the first two Underworld movies, where he actually stole actress Kate Beckinsale and then married her.

                Wiseman’s Total Recall is redesigned- Colin Farrell takes over from Arnold Schwarzenegger, still works reluctantly at his job, unhappy with the way his life turned out, married to a smokin hot wife (Kate Beckinsale) and intrigued by a company called “Rekall” that advertises vacations or fantasy memories by implanting them in your brain. Like Arnold, Farrell opts to visit Rekall and get ‘secret agent’ persona memories implanted in his head.  You can essentially break Total Recall into halfs- the first being ripped straight from original- making it easy to guess the sequence of events. Both films follow essentially the same pattern of events with minor tweaks and modernization of technology. Instead of cherry sized GPS implant in Arnold’s head, Farrell has a cell phone installed into his palm. There is also an overextended chase sequence showing off Wiseman’s futuristic hover cars. It’s almost as if Wiseman knew people were poking fun at the Verhoeven’s Total Recall depiction of the future and wanted to ensure his audience that yes, we made cars in the future cool again. Kurt Wimmer

                The second half is where new ideas start shaping. There’s no Mars in Wiseman’s adaptation, so the big sci-fi element is a giant tunnel through the center of the Earth. The tunnel divides the two surviving factions after World War III. The United Federation of Britain (UFB) and The Colony. In Verhoeven’s Total Recall, the rebel force on Mars was fighting for more air and a fair and balanced civilization. In Wiseman’s Total Recall, a rebel force is fighting for habitable space in the Colony. Wiseman does a great job portraying the Colony as a dark and gritty Blade Runner-like world, filled with congestion and unpleasantness, while the UFB is portrayed as a clean Minority Report world.

                The biggest problem with Total Recall is how the story develops in the 2nd half. We meet up with Melina (Jessica Biel) early (as we did in Verhoeven’s version) but scenes feel dragged out. Maybe the source of the problem was in the editing room? The car chase sequence was way too long, the standoff sequence where Farrell is made to believe he is still strapped into a chair at Rekall was way too long and it took way too much time to meet up with Bryan Cranston’s character. Unlike Lockout, which I felt needed an extra 20-30 minutes to fully develop, Total Recall needs 20-30 minutes cut to make the movie flow better. 

                There are some things to like about Total Recall; some great action set pieces, neat sci-fi ideas and of course Beckinsale and Biel look great on screen. But Farrell as an action hero still comes off rather boring. Biel is also wearing cargo pants throughout the entire movie which was a big mistake. Maybe Beckinsale and Biel needed to switch roles. For an action movie, it’s a rather dull one. There are some great throwbacks to the original involving the “2 Weeks” woman and the “three breasted woman”, but no “See you at the party Richter” lines, no alien tech and no mutants. In fact, the three breasted woman isn’t really explained in the movie. I suppose you could argue that the radiation from World War III is the cause, but there’s no mention of radiation or anything else that could have caused that anomaly. In the end, Total Recall is a rebranded-iRobot screenplay that barely resembles its predecessor due to weak chase story mixed with a dull lead actor.