Friday, August 3, 2012

Total Recall (2012) - Movie Review

Well, it's August already, so it's time to start dumping out the films that can't compete with the big boys of Summer.  I know that sounds a little harsh, but we're starting the month with a totally unnecessary remake of a film that many of you already own on DVD.  I guess you could say there are spoilers here, if you haven't seen the original.  Otherwise, nothing that happens in this new Total Recall is going to surprise you.  In fact they seem to reference the original movie constantly to the point where you're like, "Why don't I just watch the original instead?"

If you're totally unfamiliar with the story, Colin Farrell takes over for former Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger as Doug Quaid.  Quaid is a factory worker married to Lori (Kate Beckinsale), and has a very basic life.  However, he continues to have nightmares and can't shake the feeling that he's meant for something else.  He decides to go to Rekall, a place were you can get memories implanted to experience different things.  He chooses to have memories about being a spy, but before anything happens, a SWAT team bursts in and Quaid manages to kill them all.  He returns home to find Lori isn't actually his wife and reveals that he actually is a spy.  Then he goes on a series of chases, eventually joined by a resistance member (Jessica Biel), who tries to help him stop the evil Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) and foil his plan.  Cohaagen's evil plan involves creating an army of the robots from I, Robot to take over.

Both this and the original were based on a Philip K. Dick short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale".  Initially, we were promised a more faithful adaptation to the original story, but what we got here was just a remake of the original film with a few slight changes.  Gone in this version are the references to Mars.  Instead we're introduced to a world ravaged by war, where there are only two habitable areas left on opposite sides of the planet.  To travel between the two, they've built a giant train that travels through the core of the Earth.  You can try and wrap your head around that one, but this is Summer film, so if I can buy in to the premise of a colony and travel to Mars, I guess I have to accept a giant elevator travelling through the planet.  Although, travelling to Mars seems like the more realistic scenario these days.

Unfortunately, I just don't have all that much to say about Total Recall.  I saw the same movie 20 years ago, and I still have a fondness for it.  It didn't need a remake.  Sure, the original was silly and it doesn't hold up great, but it had one crucial thing that was missing here: fun.  This remake is just too serious and dark.  Plus, it's missing all of the mind games I felt the original had, but maybe that's due to the fact that I'm too familiar with the story.

The cast is fine, but it seemed like everyone was just going through the motions, and I just wasn't all that interested in any of the characters.  There's never any suspense or a moment where you think that Quaid is in any real danger.  I think part of the problem is that in an action film like this, you need someone with the presence of Schwarzenegger.  It's not that Colin Farrell did a bad job, he's clearly a better actor, but I just didn't get the same feeling from the character that I needed to truly be invested in the story.  It's a shame they get people like Jessica Biel and Bryan Cranston to be in this and just don't give them that much to do.  I think Kate Beckinsale was probably the highlight for me, as she has most of the best scenes, but this shouldn't really be a surprise as she's married to the director.

Director, and Fremont native, Len Wiseman (nice shout out during the movie to my home town) did a decent job.  From his previous films like Underworld and Live Free or Die Hard, he seems to do well directing action and big action sequences, which are the best parts of the film.  He just didn't do enough with the story, and instead filled it with tons of action sequences, which to be honest, started to get kind of boring and repetitive as the movie wore on.  I felt like the movie lost steam about halfway through.

The effects were pretty good though and it's a nice looking film.  You can see where they spent most of this films budget.  However, there were some times, especially when they did wider shots of the city, where I thought some of the details looked really bad.  Like it needed just a little more polish.

I guess it's kind of ironic that a movie with recall in the title reminded me of so may other films.  You'll watch this and be reminded of stuff like I, Robot, Minority Report, Blade Runner, and even The Core.  They are all just mashed up together.

As a standalone action film, Total Recall isn't terrible, but if you've seen the original, there's nothing here that you haven't already seen before.  Watching it feels like playing a familiar video game, just with different graphics and skins.  It's a rental.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars


  1. It’s not the most inventive remake out there, but it’s still a fun one that has you suspend your belief and turn off your brain for about 2 hours, and just enjoy what’s on display. Can’t see too much wrong with that, can you? Good review Erik.

  2. As a straight up action film and on the visuals, I think it succeeded. As a reboot of the original or something original it, failed. It's a shame.

    If I had never heard of Total Recall, I think I would have liked it a lot.

  3. If you already know the plot of the movie (having seen the first one), is there really a reason to see it again? For me, the answer is no.