We remember it just fine on our own ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Thursday, August 16, 2012

We remember it just fine on our own

Total Recall (2012)
My rating:

TMBF has of course seen the original 1990 Total Recall, directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. It stands out from Schwarzenegger's '80s-and-early-'90s run of action movies for two things: Verhoeven's unique - and at times, uniquely grotesque - visions of a science-fictional future, and its mind- and reality-bending plot based on Philip K. Dick's short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale." It was a popular enough, and recent enough, film that one could not but wonder just why anyone would want to remake it - but then again, remember what TMBF said about criticising a movie for being unnecessary. And indeed, there were early reports of how Len Wiseman's remake would not repeat the Mars storyline, and that it would take more inspiration from Dick's story than the 1990 film. The trailer also looked good, showcasing a fresh an eye-catching look that's certainly different from Verhoeven's.

But the surface is all that's different. In the fundamental ways, this is as much a rehash as it is a remake.

In a future where most of the world has been rendered inhabitable due to global chemical wars, the Earth's population is confined to the United Federation of Britain and the Colony (what was once Australia) - and the haves clearly live in the former while the have-nots are confined to the latter. Travel between the two areas is only possible via the Fall, a massive elevator shaft that runs through the Earth's core. Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is an ordinary factory worker who has been having disturbing recurring dreams, and - despite the admonishments of his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) and his friend Harry (Bokeem Woodbine) - visits Rekall, a shady establishment that implants artificial memories, to satisfy what seems like his fantasy of being a secret agent. Suddenly he is hunted by the police, his own wife tries to kill him, and the mystery woman from his dreams (Jessica Biel) shows up to help him. Quaid realises that he may indeed be a double agent, working for the Colony's resistance and its leader Matthias (Bill Nighy) against the UFB's dictator Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), and that his very identity may be false.

There's no doubt that Wiseman, along with his screenwriters Mark Bomback, James Vanderbilt and Kurt Wimmer, are fans of the original film. And it's quite clear that they enjoyed putting in as many little references and callbacks to that film as they could. There's a triple-breasted prostitute; there's a bug that Quaid painfully extracts out of his body; there's a security checkpoint that Quaid tries to get past with the aid of futuristic disguising technology; there's an attempt by the bad guys to convince Quaid none of it is real, that's given away by a timely secretion of a bodily fluid. (It's, um, not as dirty as it sounds.) All this plus the basic plot that is essentially identical, substituting only the deprivation of air to the colourfully mutated citizens of Mars with the Fall as symbol of oppression of the Colony's downtrodden slum-dwellers. There's even a bit where an arm gets ripped off by an elevator, only - this being PG-13 - it's a robot's and not Michael Ironside's.

But in effect, none of these are as fun as Wiseman seem to think they are. All they do is remind us that it's all been done before. Again and again, the movie keeps telling us "hey, remember this thing from the original movie? Betcha do! And hey, remember this thing? And this?" Yes, we remember, but if we wanted to watch 'em again we could just pick up the first film on DVD. We would much rather see something new, which is what I believe - correct me if I'm wrong - most people want when they purchase a current cinema ticket.

To be fair, the best parts are those that are new and different from its 1990 predecessor. For one, the Blade Runner-inspired visual design of the Colony, looking very much like a Hong Kong or Tokyo tenement city of the future with its hodge-podge of apartments stacked chaotically atop each other. It looks cool enough that it doesn't even seem like such a bad place to live. We see less of how the other half lives in the UFB, but they use magnetically-levitated cars on a kilometres-high multi-level highway system there, and it looks pretty cool too - especially when we get a good ol' car chase sequence in them. The entire first half of the movie is one long chase sequence, and if Wiseman's good at one thing it's crafting action scenes. Especially when they employ the best of circa 2012 special effects; design-wise and technical-wise, it all looks great.

And then the second half slows way the hell down, getting interminably mired in its not-particularly-interesting plot details. I've previously decried the cliché of the dystopian sci-fi action film in which the hero fights the tyrannical villain but first meets the rag-tag resistance and ends up getting them all killed. Well, it turns out the original Total Recall was one of the first to employ that trope. And it turns out the new Total Recall simply regurgitates it. Bryan Cranston as aforementioned tyrannical villain gets just one scene to do some villainous scenery-chewing, and it isn't nearly enough. Bill Nighy as the aforementioned resistance's leader gets just one scene period and doesn't even hide the fact that he's just phoning it in. (And Kuato was so much more cool.) Wasting the talents of two such charismatic character actors is just one more example of how lacking in real imagination and creativity this movie is.

But the kids'll probably enjoy it. If you've never seen the original movie and don't know a thing about it, if your age falls below the 22-year interval between the two films, you'll most likely like this just fine. It's a competent and largely unobjectionable big-budget Hollywood timewaster, and I can't imagine anyone being sorely disappointed by it. Except that aside from time, it also wastes a fascinating science fiction premise that had already been turned into a big loud action movie once before. Is it too much to expect that a remake - especially one that claims to have went back to the original Dick source material - take it somewhere different? Is it too much to expect, say, a deeply mind-f**king psychological thriller instead, which is what instantly came to mind when I thought "hmm, how should a Total Recall remake justify its existence?" I guess it is.

NEXT REVIEW: Hantu Gangster
Expectations: gee, Namewee sure ain't an easy guy to defend


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