What’s up, Contenders? Terry Malloy here live from the waterfront.
The studios really make it tough these days to evaluate a movie based solely on its own merits. Remake after reboot hit the silver screens and some people love it. But if you listen to the movie blogs, you would think each reboot signifies the end of civilization as we know it. Regardless of how you feel about the onslaught of the remakes, they remain a safe bet for studios and they’re going to keep coming!
Some remakes are really fun and some are worthless, and some are anywhere in between; so being “anti-remake” doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But on the flip side, I don’t think anyone out there is decidedly pro-remake except for studio execs. How many of your friends just can’t WAIT for the next huge remake, specifically because it is a remake? It is always a dance between honoring what has come before and adding new elements to blow our post-modern minds. Elements of nostalgia and fandom are constantly colliding with audience’s desires to be thrilled, etc. The debate goes on and on!
So where does Len Wiseman’s TOTAL RECALL fit in the reboot machine? My sense is that this new TOTAL RECALL is exactly what most people expect it to be. It is very slick, pretty to look at, and it offers plenty of thrills while managing to be pretty forgettable in the process.
I haven’t revisited Paul Verhoeven’s TOTAL RECALL in many years, but there are some totally insane moments in that film which are etched into my brain. Arnold’s atmosphere deprived eyes bugging out of his skull, that amazing fake fat lady head, and of course Kuato. I won’t dive into spoilers until a little bit later, but I will say that there is absolutely nothing in the new RECALL that brings the crazy quite like RECALL ’90.
It almost feels that, with the remake, Len Wiseman has created the world’s first live action platforming video game movie. I don’t recall (see what I did there?) the last time I saw so many set pieces centered around jumping. So much jumping. The future world that TOTAL RECALL is set in seems to have been designed by Shigeru Miyamoto, with perfectly placed windows, magnetic highways, and even massive, floating elevator boxes straight out of a Mario game. You sort of wonder at some points if Colin Farrell’s version of Douglas Quaid will jump onto a flag pole with fireworks accompanying him after he navigates a level. I’d be really interested to hear if video game levels were part of the inspiration behind the chase sequences in the film, because one in particular I really liked and had a side-scrolling feel to it.
The other piece of the film that I feel really works, is the conflict set up between the two female leads. As a red-blooded male, I tend to find both Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale to be… attractive. Here in this TOTAL RECALL, the plot goes in such different directions than the original film that audiences at least have a chance to be unsure, from time to time, who Quaid really is, or which identity he will choose to believe in. Is he an everyman on a bad Rekall trip? Or is he secret agent Hauser, rebel hero? Each of those identities pairs him with an accompanying lover. If he is Doug Quaid, Everyman, he gets to be married to Kate Beckinsale. If he is secret agent Hauser, it seems Jessica Biel is very much in love with him. And to be honest, I really enjoyed that element of the film. Who would you choose? Which life seems most appealing, especially when you can’t trust yourself to know what is real? Wiseman cast two stunning women to represent two different world’s for Farrell’s character, and it worked for me.
I felt like Kate Beckinsale was having the most fun out of anybody in this movie and she plays the Sharon Stone role with a TERMINATOR-like relentlessness that I had fun with. The entire rest of the cast just kind of does their job, and no one really embarrasses themselves. But Beckinsale offered the most verve to her role. Regardless of the fact that her husband directed this thing, Kate makes the most of it all on her own. And man, does her hair look good while she does it.
I feel that the TOTAL RECALL trailers have done a pretty good job of selling exactly what the movie has to offer. If you want a pretty, effects-heavy thrill ride with a sort of MINORITY REPORT meets THE MATRIX feel to it, jump right on in to TOTAL RECALL. There is a lot to enjoy here, and absolutely nothing that will change your life. It is almost like watching the film offers the same experience that Rekall promises, thrilling but hollow memories.
ONE SPOILER ELEMENT
I can’t resist discussing one aspect of the new TOTAL RECALL that didn’t surprise me at all, but is a significant departure from the Verhoeven/Arnold film. You’ve been warned. There is no Mars! I was suspicious about the absence of Mars in the trailers, and assumed that meant Mars wouldn’t be an element in the film. Like I mentioned, the trailers for this film don’t lie.
I’m a little torn about the Mars omission. On one hand, the Mars angle offered the environment for crazy memorable things to happen in Verhoeven’s vision. All those insane moments of three breasted glory and mutant tumor babies felt right in a Mars-set story. Wiseman’s edition doesn’t bring the crazy. It opts for the slick. And it delivers on that. But it just feels like that was the safer decision. And yet, if they had gone to Mars, this film would’ve had almost no identity of its own.
I feel that Wiseman’s TOTAL RECALL is a lesser film than its predecessor precisely because it went a safer route, and failed to stick the landing. This film builds its own version of a dystopian future, and while it does distinguish this version from the original film, it feels very similar to BLADE RUNNER and other, better films. I like some of the concepts here in TOTAL RECALL, such as “The Fall”, the underground transport system that takes workers from Australia to Britain in mere minutes by travelling near the Earth’s core. And I liked the destroyed Earth/chemical fallout angle as well. But the film spends so much time being a platformer that it never QUITE sells the reality of the world it is set in.
When you shoot for a safer story, you get a safer story. TOTAL RECALL aims at being a thrill ride and achieves that, but simply won’t sear anything into your geek brain.
And I’m Out.