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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Total Recall (2012)

Sorry for the lack of updates this week but I should have a bunch of new content coming soon. Lets start off with this week's biggest and worst film. No wait, sorry, I'm not reviewing the latest Tyler Perry film because I haven't seen it, nor the new Tinker Bell movie for the same reasons, but I'm sure they're masterpieces. Still, this is definitely the worst of the next crop of films that I will be reviewing.

This review is also up  in more spacious form (my editor likes paragraphs more than I do) at Channel 24.   

What it's about

Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) thinks he's an ordinary guy, with a boring job and a beautiful, loving wife but when his strong desire to travel to Mars leads him to Rekall, a company that fulfils its clients wildest dreams by implanting fake memories, he soon finds out that his whole life is a lie.

What we thought

Back when it was originally announced, we were promised that this new version of Total Recall would be a reinterpretation of the Philip K. Dick short story on which the 1980s Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi actioner was based, rather than a simple remake of that same film. This might have seemed like your garden variety spin doctoring by an industry that is becoming increasingly infamous for their lack of original ideas, but, for a change, it was a promise that was hardly out of the realm of possibility.

Philip K. Dick's original short story, cumbersomely but smartly titled We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, was a brilliant distillation of Dick's favourite subjects of the illusion of reality, the fragility of identity and the tug of war that humanity finds itself in between complacency on the one hand and striving for something more on the other. It was also really, really short. A faithful adaptation of the story may perhaps, at a push, be long enough to fill an episode of The Twilight Zone, but it would need to be seriously fleshed out to work even as a short feature film.

The original Total Recall took Dick's premise and, without entirely losing what it's ultimately about, turned it into a hyperactive, utterly bonkers and endlessly entertaining futuristic action flick starring Ahnuld in his lank-headed but charismatic prime. It really is a terrifically fun bit of nutso nonsense but it had very little to do with We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.

By going back to Dick's original story, it was entirely conceivable that an entirely different film could be made out of the same basic material. Its paranoid sci-fi nucleus could have been expanded upon into a smart and allegorical science fiction drama like Never Let Me Go or Dick's own A Scanner Darkly or into a brainy scifi thriller like Inception or Source Code. They could even have spun it off in an entirely new direction in the way that Dick's The Adjustment Team went from being a short blast of paranoia to a shamelessly romantic conspiracy-thriller when it was adapted into The Adjustment Bureau.

Sadly, Total Recall (2012) was given to Len Wiseman, a director who is known almost entirely for sucking the life out of a potentially great premise through four increasingly awful Underworld films and to a couple of screenwriters who, between the two of them, could never muster up a script better than Die Hard 4.0. And that's to say nothing of the other three guys it took to come up with a plot this stupid. As such, the new Total Recall has a fairly different plot to Arnie's trash masterpiece, but it's still little more than a straight up action thriller – only this time with all the style, imagination and free-wheeling madness sucked out and with lots of sub-Bourne running and jumping put in.

Total Recall (2012) is a fairly loud and fast paced couple of hours but it's still somehow relentlessly dull, charmless and bland and its constant visual references to infinitely superior Philip K Dick adaptations, Blade Runner and Minority Report, only serve to emphasise just how underwhelming it is. It's also interesting that, though it lifts entire lines of dialogue from the short story for the scenes at Rekall, its handling of its “what is real” premise is embarrassingly inept. The film does at one point try to have us believe that what's going on may well entirely be within Quaid's head but by previously cutting to the perspective of other character's, it proves definitively that it isn't, thereby entirely undercutting the potential paranoid suspense of its premise.

Total Recall totally screws up its own premise, its plot is increasingly stupid (but not in a good way) and it shamefully manages to waste proven screen talent like Bryan Cranston and Colin Farrell, while further cementing Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel as two perfectly decent action heroines desperately in need of decent vehicles. For a science fiction film, it's also crucially lacking in smart ideas and high imagination and, for an action thriller, it's somehow quite boring despite its frenetic pace. And yet, by being merely uninvolving, rather than coma-inducingly dull and lame rather than awful, it's probably still Wiseman's best film to date. Yay?

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