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Dustin Putman

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Total Recall  (2012)
2 Stars
Directed by Len Wiseman.
Cast: Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine, Bill Nighy, John Cho, Will Yun Lee.
2012 – 118 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence, some sexual content, brief nudity, and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 1, 2012.
Funny, that a remake of a movie from 1990 was made by production company Original Film, its logo prominently appearing at the start of this new loose rendering of Philip K. Dick's short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale." Make no mistake, though, that this is very much also an adaptation of the Arnold Schwarzenegger-starring "Total Recall," because, otherwise, why would it share the same name and not be titled after its literary source? Directed by Len Wiseman (2007's "Live Free or Die Hard"), the new "Total Recall" sheds the intergalactic angle, choosing to instead reimagine the Earth in a dire futuristic state where living conditions and one's own hope leave something to be desired. Even when the visuals go the way of typical dystopian grime, screenwriters Kurt Wimmer (2010's "Salt") and Mark Bomback (2010's "Unstoppable") craft an unnerving, innovative alternate reality within the opening half-hour. From there, it's all action all the time, the non-stop onslaught of chase scenes and fist fights fast becoming repetitive and dulling their impact. By downshifting the twisty plot and thematic suggestion in preference for a flurry of bullets and bedlam, the picture loses its stamina and the rooting interest of its audience. It's difficult to care when most of the characters on the screen are but cogs in an overblown machine.

With the twenty-first century coming to a close, nuclear warfare has left most of the planet nearly uninhabitable. The two exceptions: the United Federation of Britain, lately suffering from a series of anarchic attacks by rebel leader Matthias (Bill Nighy), and "The Colony," formerly the big island of Australia. Day in and day out, Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) boards a transportation vessel called "The Fall," travelling past the Earth's core and coming out on the other side to work manual labor at a steel factory. Though he has a loving wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale), he can't help but yearn for more out of life—a pang that leads him to seek out the services of Rekall, a company that transplants your wildest dreams and fantasies into your mind like new memories. There's just one catch: no synthetic memories can derive from truth without terrible side effects, a rule that proves all too real when Quaid chooses to be a secret spy only for the workers to accuse him of being an actual spy. Suddenly nothing is as Quaid remembers it. Lori is now a cutthroat assassin, the shady organization she works for is out to get him, and only resistance fighter Melina (Jessica Biel) can help as she also seeks to remind him she is his lost true love.

"Total Recall" is never lacking in vision, the cinematography by Paul Cameron (2012's "Man on a Ledge"), who is shooting here with digital Red Epic cameras, turning metallic squalor into off-kilter beauty. Aided by extensive sets and special effects reminding in many ways of 1982's "Blade Runner," the film rarely breaks ground but still earns its fantastical "what-if?" surroundings. "The Colony," especially, is something to behold, the limited living space cause for buildings to be stacked skyward, the ones built off the ground looking almost like they're floating in the air. As the viewer is introduced to this world and to Quaid's day-to-day routine, the picture is absorbing. So, too, is his visit to Rekall, which becomes fatally dangerous when masked, uniformed men with machine guns barge in and Quaid, to his shock, manages to single-handedly take them all out. Returning home, Lori changes on a dime, a cold-hearted snake in lamb's clothing. Their chase scene, as they run and jump across floating buildings, is as rousingly exciting as things get. Unfortunately, this cathartic high does not last, the proceeding hour-plus becoming more—a lot more—of the same. There's only so much whiz-bang a person can take before more is expected, whether it be a deepening of the plot or an emotional connection to the characters. The movie stops thinking and feeling in exchange for yet another stunt or another explosive pyrotechnic. It's a little depressing.

Colin Farrell (2011's "Fright Night") is likely not the first actor one thinks of when trying to come up with a replacement for Schwarzenegger. One is a muscled action hero from the '80s and '90s who always dropped one-liners and played roles with American-sounding names even though his accent was decidedly not of the U.S., while the other is an intense and versatile—and normal-sized—performer who may hail from Ireland, but can put on any speaking voice a script calls for. If Schwarzenegger is more entertaining, Farrell is the more legitimate thespian. That said, there is only so much the latter can do with Quaid when the script moves to autopilot by the second act. Sure, he's perplexed by what has occurred, but no scene stops long enough for him to do anything other than take what comes in stride. As Lori, Kate Beckinsale (2012's "Underworld: Awakening") exhibits an amazingly tough physicality for such a petite actress; perhaps it's to her credit that she's been playing butt-kicking vampire Selene for the better part of a decade. Those hoping for dimension behind her character's steely eyes, however, should look elsewhere. Perhaps most squandered of all is Jessica Biel (2010's "The A-Team"), as Melina, who looks just as convincing as Beckinsale with a gun, but hasn't anything else to do. The romantic core of the film is botched because so little attention is paid to it, and all the face-touching and hair-caressing in the world isn't enough to make her relationship with Quaid seem real or worth our concern.

Boiling down to a face-off with a villain who apparently enjoys muttering exposition more than killing his targets, "Total Recall" implodes the further it gets to the end. The final scenes are particularly disappointing because director Len Wiseman ignores the expected twist—one that might have added a little logic to the preceding eighty-five minutes or so—for a hazy, lazy denouement that expects the viewer to be swept away in unconvincing, pseudo feel-good sentiments. Oh, well. "Total Recall" looks as good as can be, but, as is so often the sad case with big-budget Hollywood bonanzas, there's a precious absence of brains to go along with the diverting imagery.
© 2012 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman