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Already fading from memory: “Total Recall”

August 19, 2012

Okay, time to play catch-up here. While I was taking a trip down memory lane with my “1982, Best Summer Ever” series there were a few new releases that slipped by, so I’m gonna try and bang those out real quick here. Sound good? Okay, let’s do it. First up is Total Recall. Well, the box office already passed judgment on this one, so there’s not a whole lot left for me to do. The Dark Knight Rises pretty much buried it, so if you were wondering if there was a reason to remake 1990’s Total Recall, well you got your answer.

This version brings nothing new to the story, and really manages to be inferior to the original in almost every way. The 1990 version still hold up amazingly well, since it was a polished and professional product. It was also run through with director Paul Verhoevan’s subversive sense of humor, which included ramping the violence up to the edge of self-parody. The 2012 version, alas, has Len Wiseman at the helm, and if there’s a franchise director that has less onscreen identity than Wiseman, I sure don’t know who it is. I mean, here is a guy who makes a zero-gravity shootout dull. How do you screw that up?

Also, we got to see Arnie’s O-face…

But on top of that, the changes made to the story have largely been cosmetic. We still have the same story of everyman Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell, doing his best) going to Rekall, a company that manufactures memories as a sort of remembered vacation, and finding that his special-order package is coming true as government operatives hunt him down. Pretty soon, he’s swept up in a conflict between the separatists and the government—a conflict he may very well hold the key to ending.

No, there’s no Mars in this version. Instead, the underclass live in Australia (New China, in early drafts of the movie, but changed so as not offend a potentially-massive overseas market), and commute to the chilly overworld of England (The Federation…or Confederation…something like that) through a massive subway that runs through the Earth’s core. This is kind of a neat idea, give the movie that. And the production design of New China…erm, Australia is kinda cool—I’d actually rather live there than in the nice neighborhood—as a matter of fact, the movie never quite explains why one place sucks and one place doesn’t. I guess because there are Asian people in New China Australia, and they bring property values down or something.

Ew…I hope they don’t move in next door to me.

Verhoevan also played with the reality of the world much moreso than this film did. Seeing the movie when I was 18, I didn’t get all the subtle hints he dropped that the whole adventure really was just a dream as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s psyche broke down. Rewatching it last week, I was impressed with how cleverly he layered them into the film. Yeah, predictably enough, Wiseman does none of this. What you see is actually what’s happening in his movie.

Actually, there’s a lot of shorthand in this movie. In the 1990 version, the conflict between the two sides that Quad gets sucked into makes more sense. We saw government troops clashing with Martian separatists (in one of the film’s best pieces of satire, a news report shows soldiers slaughtering a bunch of separatists while the announcer drones, “…government troops repelled the attack with minimal use of violence.”) There is also a clear motivation for the bad guy—he wants the unobtainium-like stuff they’re mining, and he’s also charging the Martian colonists for their air. Oh, and his ruthless business practices have left a lot of them mutated (some more intriguingly than others). We’re never given a sense of the tension between the two colonies on Earth, except that the bad guy (Bryan Cranston) really, really wants to take over New China Australia.

Also, no one’s head does this.

This version thins the cast a bit too by sliding Quaid’s wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale), into the Michael Ironside role from the original as the most active antagonist. This isn’t a huge problem, but it’s indicative of the half-assedness of a lot of this movie. That being said, Beckinsale looks amazing and is absolutely irresistible in the bad-gal role. Usually, I find her pretty but bland, but here, sinking her teeth into the villainess role, she’s exponentially sexier than she’s ever been in that damn latex vampire outfit she keeps donning for the Underworld series. Problem is, with Jessica Biel as Quaid’s love-interest/ally, you have two similar-looking women onscreen and it’s really uninteresting, visually. Verhoevan was canny in casting uber-Aryan Sharon Stone opposite the acceptably-ethnic-for-1990 Rachel Ticotin. I mean, really, Les? There wasn’t any other actress in Hollywood you could have given this part to? What? Biel blew you away with her performance in Stealth?

Got it, Len. You have a type…

So, everything ends on a predictable note, with a big, uninteresting fight between Cranston’s robots and Farrell’s Quaid. Also, Biel and Beckinsale have a showdown, so we can have a fight between the two identical-looking chicks. I suppose there are some dudes out there who might find that prospect appealing—weirdos people who find twins erotic—but I’m more of a variety-over-quantity person, myself. Also, they blow up the intra-Earth 6 train, so, um good? Wait, if all the people from New China Australia have to commute to Confederationland, isn’t there whole economy now wrecked? I mean, if you cut Bed-Stuy off from the rest of the world, it ain’t exactly gonna flourish.

So, that’s Total Recall. It’s not even derivative enough to be fun. Oh, and Kaitlyn Leeb, you are no Lycia Naff….

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