August 6, 2012

Movie Review: Total Recall (2012)

The works of Phillip K. Dick have been mined for cinematic adaptations for years. Why shouldn't they be? His stories are intelligent, interesting, and seemed perfectly suited to be adapted to the big screen. It has been done many times over the years with movies like Blade Runner, Minority Report, and Screamers. With this latest adaptation, it might be a case where they probably shouldn't have. It is not so much that the idea is bad, it isn't, I mean it had already been done once before. Of course, you remember the 1990 version, right?

Total Recall was director Paul Verhoeven's follow up to the classic RoboCop, which was released in 1987. His Total Recall starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, and Michael Ironside and still stands up today as a relentless action film that still manages to have some brains to it. Now, 22-years later we are faced with a new take on the tale for a new generation. Both versions are takes on Dick's We Can Remember it for you Wholesale, but one is fun, action packed, and smart, and the other has action but is rarer dour and never takes off.

Now, I could go on about how much I like the Verhoeven film better, and I do, but that really wouldn't be fair to this new movie. But before moving on completely to the new film film, it seems that the original was always in the back of the minds of this movie's makers. There are some visual nods to the first, as well as the attempt to cram old school one liners into the screenplay, they never work. Now, I did not mind much of the visual stuff that I noticed, but the one liners were out of place and never landed.

This new version of Total Recall was shepherded to the big screen by director Len Wiseman (Underworld) and writers Kurt Wimmer (Equilibrium) and Mark Bomback (Live Free or Die Hard). They have crafted a movie that uses Dick's story as a frame and mixes in bits of the first Total Recall with a little of Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Identity and put them a setting that recalls other Dick related films Blade Runner and Minority Report. All of that sounds like am interesting mix, but it fails to take flight.

It is a sloppy concoction that lacks heart and energy. It also is not much fun. Now, I do not mean to suggest it needs to be fun, but there needs to be a certain level of entertainment to be be had and that is not found here. Where the original had a style and look all it's own, this new take looks and feels like a lot of different films. It is collection of influences rather than an influencer itself.

It has only one interesting creation that it can call its own, that being The Fall, a through the Earth transport that connects United Federation of Britain with The Colony (Australia). The Colony takes the place of Mars and instead of air, the inhabitants of the Colony are subject of oppression from the UFB. The Fall is a huge transport that carries Colony workers to and from their jobs. It serves as a symbol of oppression, but is also a rather unique invention for the film.

Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is an assembly line worker, welding parts on synthetic police, a symbol of their oppression. He feels unfulfilled and is plagued by nightmares featuring a woman other than his wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale). In an effort to take the edge off, he goes to Rekall, a place where you can buy memories of vacations and such. His visit yields unintended results as it appears he has already had his memory altered and the procedure has started to unleash other memories.

What follows is a chase, a chase that will see Quaid learn more of who he is, more of what UFB Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) is up to, and who the girl in his dreams (Jessica Biel) is. It is too bad I did not care about any of it. There is something about this that just never connects.

The movie has a good cast and a good idea, it just fails to make much of an impact. I think it is because the look is familiar and none of the cast are all that involving. I never felt the danger they were in, I never cared about Quaid. Farrell is a good actor but his take on the character here is little more than a deer in headlights. The whole movie plays like paint by numbers, everyone plays their parts, sleepwalkIng through the plot.

To its benefit, there are some nicely staged action sequences. I particularly enjoyed the first for between Quaid and Lori, it is a nicely choreographed bit of fisticuffs. I also think that Kate Beckinsale does a fine job of playing the loving wife one second and relentless ad guy the next, she easily gives the best performance of the movie.

I wanted to like it. I am not one to automatically write off remakes and this one seemed to have potential. Sadly it just doesn't work. It is boring, has dull characters, and just is not all that entertaining. It is the product of hired guns rather than a creative team with actual vision. Such a shame.

Not Recommended.

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