Total Recall (2012)

  • Time: 118 min
  • Genre: Action | Adventure | Sci-Fi
  • Director: Len Wiseman
  • Cast: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel


For a factory worker named Douglas Quaid, even though he’s got a beautiful wife who he loves, the mind-trip sounds like the perfect vacation from his frustrating life – real memories of life as a super-spy might be just what he needs. But when the procedure goes horribly wrong, Quaid becomes a hunted man as he finds himself on the run from the police.


  • I think we all saw this coming.

    On the upside, Kate Beckinsale is a badass, and when she’s not hindered by the writers, with their pesky “plots” and “words,” she’s awesome to watch. Fans of the original, don’t even play: you know Sharon Stone vs. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a joke. Not so here: Beckinsale’s Michael Meyers-like omnipresence may be eyeroll-inducing, but it’s worth it to watch her put the smackdown on Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel.

    Because THOSE two. I cannot EVEN with those two. Zero chemistry, bland, bland, bland. I’ll concede that this isn’t a deep character study, but Biel has ZERO personality, she’s just a walking trope.

    Colin Farrell is really not in his element as the doe-eyed, “But I wanna be GOOD!” guy. And his awkward attempts to deliver the quasi-philosophical lines (“An illusion, no matter how convincing, is still objectively just.. an illusion.” very deep, Colin) are painful.

    Bill Nighy earns his paycheck and carries Farrell through a scene, but sadly that’s all we ever see of him. In his place, we get a completely RIDICULOUS showdown between Farrell and Bryan effing Cranston. Now I love me some Cranston as much as the next guy, but how in the world do they expect me to believe that this aging politician can put up a more than decent fight against a man half his age? Who is supposedly THE GREATEST AGENT ALIVE?

    That’s a symptom of a larger issue: the action, for all that it’s meant to be a huge draw, is a disappointment. No one is going to be at the edge of their seats while watching Jessica Biel pilot an arcade game-cum-flying car in front of a green screen, or jump from one flying cube to the next in the most random and physics-defying (this 100-square mile spinning elevator room is all… underground? inside that ONE skyscraper they went into? who knows) chase scene of.. this part of the movie.

    But more importantly: director Len Wisemen simply has no understanding of what makes action work. As Film Crit Hulk points out in his excellent 3-part series, great action depends on a number of things including audience 1) ANTICIPATION 2) UNDERSTANDING 3) FEELING 4) REACTING.

    We don’t get any of that. Take for example the action scene in the trailer, where Farrell’s character takes down a room full of guards using instinct alone: it’s mindless action. Farrell easily takes them out, and there’s never a pause or a moment for the audience to fully understand the shocking implications of what he’s doing. We’ve seen that he’s a muscular guy (hello, obligatory shirtless scene); he then gets attacked, and beats some guys up. Who cares? We knew it was coming, we never had any doubt he could do it, and it doesn’t emotionally affect the audience in any way. We’re not impressed, relieved, anxious, or excited.

    And that audience apathy goes on for pretty much the entire film. I’m willing to suspend my disbelief at the complete absurdity of a high-speed train traveling through the center of the earth, but you have to give me some incentive to do so. The rest of the movie has to be good – or at least FUN – enough to distract me from the funny science. But the action scenes, romance, and plot (the president of the WORLD is leading this invasion? yeah that sounds realistic) are of no interest to me, so I’m forced to find other things to occupy my mind. Like so:

    “Hmmm.. so, they pass through the earth’s core and the ship immediately begins decelerating… Then it takes about 3 minutes for them to get to the surface, and the earth is maybe 8000 miles in diameter… so 4000 miles in 3 minutes would be… like… (full disclosure: I used a calculator later >.<) 80,000 miles per hour. Yet somehow Jessica Biel is able to climb a ladder on the outside of the ship at this speed? OH COME ON.”

    Probably the most annoying part of this movie was how poorly they handled the “is this real or Rekall?” theme. I want to be unsure! I want to wonder! I want to DEBATE it!
    I say again: Total Mess.

  • Hollywood is criticized countlessly for rebooting various popular films from the past in the forms of remakes. Unless the project is given to people with the right skill set, many remakes end up paling in comparison to the original material they spawned from. A big cause of these foul-ups is that it’s a remake alone. Many fans feel there is nothing to re-invent about what was made prior. Another issue is how sensitive the rating system has become. With more and more studios believing that PG-13 rating is the best way to get a mass crowd of viewers, less and less fans become interested. During the last half of the 20th century, many films were made with R ratings just because. However, more PG-13 ratings are given and that mindset is still taken into account when it comes to redoing certain properties. Unfortunately, this lesson hasn’t been entirely learned yet. For director Paul Verhoeven a lot of his late 1980 and early 1990 films have not been given enough leeway.

    Although in some ways the original Total Recall (1990) has not aged nicely, its narrative, hard R rating and Schwarzenegger’s memorable acting made it a sci-fi classic. Skip 22 years later and you have this remake, which like many studios claimed was “introducing it to new audiences”. It is watchable but is probably only worthwhile once. The story is fairly similar to that of Verhoeven’s version. Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is an average guy married to his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) who works at a factory with Harry (Bokeem Woodbine) where they make synthetics (robot cops). Yet every night, Quaid keeps having dreams where he’s trying to escape with some girl named Melina (Jessica Biel) and he feels like he knows her. In the background, there’s a “civil war” occurring between Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), the man behind the Synthetics and Matthias (Bill Nighy) a man labeled as the “leader of rebels”. Among all this, there is a giant elevator that transports people from one side of the earth to the other passing through the earth’s core and it’s called “The Fall”. It is this that people believe the phrase “The fall enslaves us all”.

    For writing, which was penned by Kurt Wimmer (Salt (2010)) and Mark Bomback (Unstoppable (2010)) takes the mind-bending screenplay from the original and waters it down to where the story comes across as really generic. Just how does the fall enslave everybody? There barely is any depiction of what the fall does to the people who don’t approve of it. Here there’s not much of a reason given and most audiences will continue watching the film than try and figure out the motivation. Another subplot Wimmer and Bomback couldn’t effectively translate was whether after Quaid visited rekall, if he was in a dream or not. There is a hint of it later on but it is so weak in comparison to Verhoeven’s version, which kept its viewers guessing every step of the way. This version has no transition from when Quaid gets his memory implant. The only part of the writing that is flattering are the various references. Remember the “two weeks” disguise – which’s there. Remember the three breasted female – she’s there, mind you that doesn’t even make sense because there is no mention of mutants in this world.

    Although not many standout, all main cast members act believable between each other. The actor who looked like he had the most fun went to Bryan Cranston as Cohaagen. Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel pass as a couple and Farrell has his moments along with Kate Beckinsale. Bokeem Woodbine as Quaid’s friend was okay but felt predictable. The only actor who is completely useless in his role is Bill Nighy as the infamous rebel “leader”. The only thing Matthias does is give a one line quote of insight to Quaid and that’s it. Nighy is not even allowed to let his hammier side of acting show, which is unfortunate. The action entertains but only initially. The physical fight scenes between Quaid and other characters have energy; that part is worth it. What gets tiresome on the other hand are all the sci-fi action scenes that involve car chases, synthetics and other worldly technology. Like a structured story should be written, every action-related scene should get bigger than the last but for these, it becomes preposterous. That’s not to say they become mind numbing like a Michael Bay film but they suffer from obvious CGI overload.

    The special effects are well put together no doubt, it all looks real and physically tangible singularly. It just becomes too much sometimes when everything is together all at once. The cinematography by Paul Cameron (Collateral (2004)) doesn’t always help either. For the outside scenes it is hard to tell what is real and what isn’t. There’s no problem having wide panning shots to give the audience a better idea of scope. However, it helps to also shoot scenes with techniques like those while including parts of the set that are real so each scene doesn’t feel so CGI-ish. The other fault Cameron keeps making are continuously having lens-flares in various shots, whether it be indoors or out. It’s rather distracting when one is trying to focus on what is happening. Harry Gregson-Williams composed the music, which consists of hybrid orchestra. For this score, Williams does have a main theme for the film but it lacks any kind of memorable cue that’ll make someone think of the film. It is literally a two-note cue involving horns and deep synth base.

    It’s a watchable film but only for a one-time stand. It has acceptable special effects, hand-to-hand action, okay acting, music and flattering references to the original. Yet this doesn’t make up for the occasional CGI overload, generically written plot, weakly written dream subplot and continuous lens flares in its cinematography.

    Points Earned –> 5:10

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