Total Recall, 2012.
Directed by Len Wiseman.
Starring Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine, Bill Nighy and John Cho.
A factory worker comes to suspect that he is a spy after a visit to Rekall, a company that provides its clients with implanted fake memories of another life.
There are no new ideas. That’s what you hear from the kind over zealous film fans that would have you believe that Hollywood is incapable of producing anything other than prefabricated variations of stories that have told many times before. It’s one of the most labored and frequent film discussions these days revolving around the frequency of remakes, reboots, and reimaginings of previously released movies and television series.
These discussions make me think of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Everyone believes the previous era contained a kind of creative purity that no longer exists. Painting with such broad strokes rarely yields any truths. And in defense of these productions, not every remake is a tired, pointless endeavor. Total Recall, on the other hand is Exhibit A for the prosecution. Don’t worry, I left my soapbox at home. The rotten fruit has been thrown out. I’m not hear to crucify anyone or use this mediocre movie as the lynch pin in some larger argument. I do want to examine the inspiration behind the creation of this monstrosity. More on that in a minute.
The original Total Recall was a cheese-ball classic. A clever idea inspired by a Phillip K. Dick story (We Can Remember It for You Wholesale) starring the biggest action star in the world at the time, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and directed by the wonderfully subversive Paul Verhoeven. It’s brutally violent, had some wonderfully ridiculous action sequences, and featured the kind of ham-fisted acting you would expect in a movie featuring a catchphrase-spewing Austrian bodybuilder. The plot was simple enough. A regular working Joe dreams of a more exciting life. He goes to a service called Rekall where they implant exciting memories into your mind. Kind of like a virtual vacation. Something goes wrong and soon the average Joe learns he may be a spy. The movie plays with the idea that this may be nothing more than the product of an implanted memory.
The remake is one of those sad attempts at toning down the over-the-top science fiction elements to create a more grounded and gritty setting. And the movie suffers greatly for it. Arnold is replaced with Colin Farrell, a fine actor and credible action lead. But unlike Arnold, he has no fun with the material at all. There’s a dead-seriousness to everything in this remake that sucks every last ounce of potential fun from the finished film. The original Total Recall had almost no polish. The remake is nothing but. And it’s great polish. Visually it’s as impressive as any 200 million dollar budgeted monstrosity should be. The action sequences are massive, though disjointed and poorly staged.
The question that kept creeping up is “why”? Why did they remake Total Recall in the first place? And I’m not playing armchair studio executive here. This is more of a morbid curiosity about what happens between inception and reality. You have this cheesy sci fi action film released in 1990. A successful film that was entertaining though far from perfect. What inspired the remake? So much of the original film has been cut away that its almost baffling to try and figure out the motivation behind a remake. They don’t improve on the original. They don’t build on it. They reduced it the most bare components and played the material so deadpan that the movie is practically strangled by its seriousness.
I can forgive a bug budget action film for many failings. I don’t expect Oscar caliber performances, and trust me, with a supporting cast featuring Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel, you ain’t going to get them. Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) is making a bid to become the most disappointingly-used actor in film today. I hope he’s getting paid well, because after seeing him pop up in throwaway films like Total Recall and John Carter, I’m wondering if he doesn’t need to reevaluate his management team.
But if nothing else, it has to be fun. I’ll take stupid fun over serious boredom any day of the week. Give me a roided out Arnold Schwarzenegger killing a guy with a drill while shouting “screw you” in an accent so thick its practically unintelligible any day of the week over a perpetually frowning Colin Farrell and a hundred million dollars worth of special effects.
Len Wiseman is a terrible director. He can create some pretty scenery, but he populates it with nothing but noise. And as remakes go, it’s a fascinating mix of reverence and revolting. There’s all these moments where they pay homage to the original by referencing some of the more iconic scenes in the original. They bring back things like the three breasted prostitute acknowledging the existence of the previous film. But all that does is remind us of how much fearless and fun the original was. Instead of this by the numbers, soulless piece of junk taking space in my cerebral cortex.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ / Movie ★ ★