Thursday, August 9, 2012

Total Recall (2012)

You Don't Know Dick (Philip K.)
I Can Misremember It For Your Wholesale

The reviews that I've seen for the new version of Total Recall have not been kind.  Rotten Tomatoes, that fine aggregator/cuisinart of opinion, put it on "puree" when it said "While it boasts some impressive action sequences, Total Recall lacks the intricate plotting, wry humor, and fleshed out characters that made the original a sci-fi classic."

Huh?  What the wha...?

Maybe I'm in Rekall right now and this is all some elaborate alternate reality, but my vivid memories of the Schwarzenegger Total Recall (made 22 years ago by that "master" of intricate plotting, wry humor and sub-tle human interactions*, Paul Verhoeven) was of an R-rated Sci-Fi gore-fest, light on "Gee-Whiz" and heavy with Cheese-Whiz, that seemed to mark the limit to how much Arnold could contort his face.**  The one thing I remember being amusing was Sharon Stone as Doug Quaid's wife, in an arch performance that basically made her a star.***

This "re-imagining" (if you will) has Colin Farrell as Quaid,**** working on an assembly line for synthetic security forces—robo-cops (although they more resemble—and collapse just like—the battle-droids in the Star Wars prequels).    The elaborate set-up has the world decimated by chemical weapons making the world inhabitable on only two islands, Britain and Australia.  The most precious commodity, thus, is living space, and the commute from one to the other is a tough one, a high-speed transport through the Earth's core—the shortest distance between two points being a straight line (would really have hated to be a construction worker on that project!).  

Anyway, Quaid is beset by dreams of running, chasing, shooting and loss, waking up in a cold sweat to find himself sleeping next to Lori (Kate Beckinsale, a fine actress—remember her in Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing—who is going to be stuck in kick-ass roles as long as Keira Knightley, Michelle Williams, and Carey Mulligan are alive), who works for security for the United Federation of Britain, and its leader Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), which begs the question: Where's the Queen?  And begs the question: she's married to a factory worker?

But if we start picking nits we'll be here until the time the movie's set in. Leave it that there are plot-holes larger and deeper than the one running through the planet, and it all begins when Quaid decides to go to the Rekall facility in his local city (which I believe is Great Britain, but owes a lot to Ridley Scott's Los Angeles in Blade Runner...and Spielberg's D.C. in his own version of Dick's Minority Report), a divey section of town with a yen for Chinese decor.  Basically, he wants a spy fantasy, where there are double identities, secret plots and no one can be trusted.  He gets it, but whether it's reality or a drug-induced fantasy he has no way of knowing.  Something goes horribly (horribly) wrong, and by the end of his session, all the Rekall technicians are dead, as well as a dozen security forces, who burst in (pretty quickly, too) and whom Quaid overcomes in a single-shot, digitally-tracked shot that resembles a first-person shooter game.

Which is what this movies is, essentially—game scenarios, one after the other, trying to get to the next level.  It's not that this Total Recall is anything less than competent.  It truly is, and the cast is fine and all.  But, it's never anything more than that, there's nothing very inspired...except from other sources, movies and video-games, mostly,***** and tangential stuff at that.  But, although attempts have been made to make it sleeker and faster-paced, there is no attempt to make it better or develop themes that the first film dropped for kinetic thrills.  When you're dealing with alternate realities, why leave it at one?  Why not keep the audience on edge on what's true?  Why not make the stakes a little bit higher, so there are more consequences (like what this movie hints at in an early scene) for Rekall users, so there's more at risk than physical pain?  This is Inception-material, but on only one level, and it's a sub-level at that.  The potential was there to do more, but, instead, it's more of the same.

And Len Wiseman, the director of this, and the "Underworld" films (and "Die Hard 4")?  It's a few films in now, and one can say that he's not aspiring to much, other than keeping both the budget and the pace high.  It's not so much directed, as art-directed, full of detail to distract from the lack of depth—highly finished, but with a sub-standard foundation.  There was so much that anyone could do with this material to make it rise above the first one, rather than just make it worse.

Total Recall (2012) is a Total Cable-Watcher.

"But, I don't WANT to be in a bad Schwarzenegger movie!"
"Which one: Jingle All the Way or Last Action Hero?"

* ...usually involving fists, but in this case involving anything that could penetrate a human torso or face.  This one was a particularly nasty exercise in excess, and I remember Schwarzenegger shilling it on Entertainment Tonight: "Yah, It's a GREAT FAMILY moo-vie, Bring the KIDS!"  I was horrified to see that some idiot-parents actually did, and those kids have probably been in therapy for a couple years now.

** ...without  special effects, anyway.

*** It put her on the path, anyway, as Verhoeven was so impressed with her that he cast her in Basic Instinct, then she was a star in a flash.

**** A better match, I think, than Schwarzenegger.  Farrell is more relatable, and you could see him as a factory worker, which makes the concept—which is telegraphed and anticipated to the Nth degree in both films—work a bit better.  Schwarzenegger can't be believed as a factory worker—he's too much of a "800-pound gorilla in the room" to be hiding in such plain sight.  The original concept...and casting...had someone like Richard Dreyfuss in the role.  Now, THAT would have been fun, and surprising.

***** A lot from the first film, of course, but it's weird stuff—the plaid pattern that Quaid wears at some point, the woman in the transport station—there to fake out only the audience that had seen the first film—and the triple-breasted prostitute (probably because it's what the geeks remember...and want).  All of which will bring me to an up-coming point...


Candice Frederick said...

i agree that the art here is exquisite, however misplaced. the rest of it, minus beckinsale, was pretty terrible.

LadyJ3000 said...

Arnold actually shilled this as a family movie. And how much do I have to pay Colin to stop remaking movies?

Yojimbo_5 said...

Arnold shilled his own as one, which always soured me on the man. Colin is merely a hired hand. I don't mind remakes, I just see remaking good movies as a waste of time, when there are so many mediocre ones that could have been better given a little care and Total Recall. My biggest laugh of the film was seeing its production company is named "Original Film." Ha!