Sunday, August 5, 2012

Review: Total Recall

The original Total Recall is spiritual twin to Robocop. They're both very good sci-fi/action movies directed by Paul Verhoven, with interesting hooks, good action and smart concepts with interesting metaphors, let down by their script and acting, that tend to get overpraised by movie geeks of a certain age, due to being a huge part of their foundational psyche. But, while Robocop was an original invention, Total Recall is based on a Phillip K Dick short called We Can Remember It For You, Wholesale. And while the opportunity is there to make a closer adaption (which, as True Grit proved, is the way to go) this new one moves even farther and the result is a clumsy, boring mess.

The plot is pretty much exactly the same as the original movie, with a slightly alteration to the setting. It's the future, but the planet is devastated by germ warfare that only Britain and Australia remain habitable. Workers are ferried from Australia to Britain via a giant underground elevator called The Fall. The main character (I'm sure he had a name, but I can't remember it) is unhappy in his existence and seeks thrills via Rekall, a procedure that will implant false memories to make you feel like you've lived a cooler existence. But the procedure reveals that he's actually a secret agent and everything in his life is a grandly staged lie.

If nothing else, this movie is a perfect example of something I've been harping on about for a while: dramatically unengaging fights. Most bad action movies have poorly put together fight scenes, but Total Recall's are frequently well put together and a couple of them are actually really cool. But the characters are so flat and the story so poorly told and written, that I just could not give any less of a shit. It doesn't help that the movie is the exact opposite of fun. Yeah the original was kind of silly, but that was the gag, IE that it was increasingly possible that he was still just strapped into the machine and all of this was just his fantasy. This one attempts to go for that (indeed, the scene where they directly address it is the closest the movie comes to coming alive) but never really commits to it. As it is, the movie is so serious and dour that I can't even enjoy the action scenes for themselves.

The script is awful, thinly sketched characters, terrible dialogue and a couple of just baffling character actions. And while I'm complaining, possibly the most consistently annoying thing is how unoriginal the visual design is. In fact, now that I think about it, the visual design is ripped directly from the two most well known and popular adaptations of Phillip K Dick stories. Australia consistently looks so much like Blade Runner it's actually a little surprising that they got away with it. And what little we see of Britain looks like a cut rate Minority Report.

The acting is mixed. Kate Beckinsale is pretty good at the wife/lead henchman role, although the number of 'wife' jokes they make starts to get disconcerting when you realize she's married to the director. Bryan Cranston is pretty good as the villainous President, even if he's saddled with a couple of baffling character actions. Jessica Biel isn't given enough of a character beyond 'the hero's girlfriend' to really give us a read. The big drag is the important one, as Collin Farrell is still consistently unsuited to this action hero roles that people keep saddling him with.

Ultimately this movie is just what it looked like: A shitty sci-fi/action movie, dressed up with the story of a better movie and the odd winking reference to the original. There are dozens of better adaptations of Phillip K Dick stories (I know a few of you still haven't seen Blade Runner) and you'd be better off seeing any of those. Go see Blade Runner if you want a better serious movie, or Minority Report if you want a better action. Hell, just go see the original, it's not perfect but it's a good time. This? This is just boring.

Elessar is a 22 year old cinephile and he found it weird how everyone said 'Shit' so often, in the EXACT same way.

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