Monday, August 13, 2012
The remake of the vintage Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi saga “Total Recall” with Colin Farrell replacing Arnie as the hero isn’t bad. Unfortunately, this atmospheric, above-average, but convoluted British produced extravaganza won’t erase the memory of the original film with its gratuitous violence and abrasive cynicism. “Underworld” director Len Wiseman has made a polished looking picture, but he just doesn’t deliver the goods with the same panache that director Paul Verhoeven served them up back in 1990. Incidentally, I didn’t enjoy “Total Recall” as much as some of the Austrian bodybuilder’s other sci-fi forays, namely “The Terminator” franchise and “Predator.” Nevertheless, this larger-than-life actioneer boasted riveting action, stunning surprises, slam-bang action with buckets of synthetic blood and layers of latex appliances. The cast spouted the F-word approximately 28 times and uttered it without qualm. Comparatively, Wiseman’s “Total Recall” (**1/2 out of ****) remake shares little in common with its 1990 predecessor in all those respects. The action here is practically plasma-free. The new film’s PG-13 rating tones down most of what made the R-rated original so objectionable. The escalator scene in the first movie where Arnie appropriated the bullet-riddled corpse of an innocent bystander and wielded the cadavar as a shield to absorb a barrage of bullets is conspicuous absent from the new “Total Recall.” Furthermore, Wiseman and scenarists Kurt Wimmer of “Law Abiding Citizen” and Mark Bomback of “Unstoppable” have confined the action entirely to a post apocalyptic planet Earth. Interestingly, Wiseman’s “Total Recall” retains most of the elements of cult author Philip K. Dick’s imaginative short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" with minor exceptions. The short story concerned a white-collar, accountant hero, while the two films featured a blue-collar protagonist. Although the “Total Recall” remake shuns the Martian setting, it adheres to the template of the original without any extraterrestialaliens. Sadly, the chief villain in the remake seems congenial compared to the original scoundrel who spewed venom. Additionally, while the first movie eliminated Sharon Stone as a supporting villain early in the action, the remake with Kate Beckinsale in Stone’s role not only rewards her with considerably more screen time than Stone but also expands her role. She becomes the villain’s right hand henchman.
The new “Total Recall” unfolds in the late 21st century after chemical warfare has devastated planet Earth. Humans have retreated to the only two remaining places where they can breathe fresh air. What had been the United Kingdom has become the United Federation of Britain. Meanwhile, Australia has become the Colony. If the cities in the United Federation of Britain bear a passing resemblance to both “Metropolis” and “The Fifth Element,” then the Colony resembles the overcrowded urban landscape of Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner.” Humanity is quickly running out of places to live. Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston of “John Carter”) seeks to sanction urban renewal. He wants to lead his army of synthetic robots into the Colony and clean it out. Basically, the Colony is a dreary, rain-drenched, ghetto of a community. Cohaagen is searching for an excuse to storm it. A resistance movement has emerged around a notorious but enigmatic rebel, Matthias (Bill Nighy of “Valkyrie”), who strikes fear in Cohaagen’s heart. Cohaagen orchestrates terrorists’ attacks on the UFB so he can invade the Colony. He plans to take advantage of the commuter train which runs between the UFB and the Colony. Essentially, this commuter train looks like a gigantic puck that plunges between the two destinations in fifteen minutes or less. The tunnel bores past the Earth’s core where the train loses gravity briefly before entering the UFB.
Working class stiff Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell of “Minority Report”) lives in the Colony and has been taking the train to work for years. He assembles synthetic storm troopers for Cohaagen’s army in a factory. When he isn’t building better robots, he lives with his gorgeous wife Lori, (dark-haired Kate Beckinsale of “Contraband”), who works as an emergency medical technician. Lately, Quaid has been having bizarre dreams. He has fantasies that he is fighting alongside a mysterious woman, Melina (Jessica Biel of “Stealth”), in the resistance movement who loves him. One day Quaid decides to relieve the tedium of his meaningless existence. He enters a place known as Rekall that will implant memories which will enrich his life. Rekall is tantamount to a tanning salon except that they inject drugs into their customers so they can experience a number of role-playing scenarios. Quaid wants to fulfill his desire to be a secret agent battling hordes of bad guys. Little does our clueless protagonist suspect he may have been a secret agent.
Make no mistake; the producers have spared no expense to create elaborate settings for this somber, straightforward dystopian thriller. Although Colin Farrell qualifies as a better actor than Arnold Schwarzenegger, Farrell lacks the iconic charisma of the former California governor. Schwarzenegger amounted to as much a special effect in the first one as all of the elaborate latex appliances that adorned a three-breasted prostitute as well as the mutants. Mind you, Wiseman makes an allusion to the three breasted woman, but he makes no reference to the resistance leader in the original that had a midget attached to his stomach like a bizarre Siamese twin. Instead, the remake pits Farrell against twice as many adversaries as the original. The villain’s army of robotic warriors resembles those in the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy with similar outfits. Although it bristles with careening car chases and close-quarters combat galore in cliffhanger encounters, “Total Recall” rarely provides anything remotely memorable. Wiseman has lost his knack for choreographing nimble action scenes that keep you perched on the edge of your seat. Beckinsale makes a terrific villain, while Farrell and company go through the motions. Somewhere in the “Total Recall” remake lurks a first class movie, but it never reached the screen.