Total Recall (2012) – A Review

Beside what I saw in the trailer for Total Recall (2012), here’s what I knew about the movie going into last night’s screening:

  • The 1990 original starred Arnold Schwarzenegger.
  • The movie was based on/inspired by a Philip K. Dick story, as was Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau and Bladerunner. That dude was ahead of his time.
  • The original featured a woman with three breasts, which was a very big deal to all my 13 year old male classmates when it came out.

That’s it. I am one of the apparently few people who never saw the original. I definitely have some movie blind spots from the late eighties and early nineties – until I could drive myself to the theater, I didn’t go to the movies all that often and we were one of the later families to get a VCR – but I never thought that Total Recall was the most egregious of my cinema lapses. People are much more riled up that I’ve never seen any of the Indiana Jones movies. That legitimately freaks people out. I contemplated watching the 1990 version before the screening, but decided at this point I wanted to go into the movie basically blind. I’d learned my lesson from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo; I read the book and watched the Swedish and American versions of the film all within a month of each other and I was pretty Lisbeth-ed out by the end of it. I wanted to see if the 2012 version of Total Recall could stand on its own merits. Sometimes remakes rely too heavily on nostalgia for the original and are not very successful as a stand-alone film. Also, in my experience, seeing a movie for the first time as an adult that everyone loved a kid doesn’t always pan out; when I finally saw Star Wars four years ago for the first time, I was pretty underwhelmed with it. The special effects that amazed kids in the 70s just didn’t impress me much.

Total Recall takes place in 2084 and the planet Earth is inhabitable except for two regions – The United Federation of Britain and The Colony. Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) is a factory worker living modestly in The Colony with his wife (Kate Beckinsale). Quaid is troubled by reoccurring dreams that he has where he and an unidentified woman (Jessica Biel) are being chased by the UFB army. His inability to shake the dream and his increasing unhappiness with the monotony of his life inspire Quaid to try a memory altering facility called Rekall. At Rekall, you can escape reality; they can implant memories in your brain of whatever you want – you can feel like you’ve experienced things that you would never be able to afford or do things that you would be afraid to do in real life. After Quaid is strapped in the chair, all hell breaks loose as he realizes that his life and everyone in it are not exactly what they seem. Or is this all part of the Rekall Experience?

I generally enjoyed Total Recall. It reminded me a little bit of Inception, since you are not really sure what is real and what is imagined. The story was not nearly as complicated as I feared it would be; I’m not a huge science fiction fan so I sometimes have trouble following everything that is going on. Every time I watch a film/show featuring time travel, for example, I fear my head will explode. But I had no trouble following Total Recall, despite the twists and turns in the story. There was a lot of action and some pretty impressive fight scenes. The movie was visually very appealing; it is always impressive what imaginary technology is featured in this genre of films and Total Recall is no exception. I was particularly impressed with the method of transportation between the UFB and The Colony, which involves going through the core of the Earth.

I have been trying to convince people that Colin Farrell is an underrated actor. I admittedly haven’t seen everything that he’s done – I didn’t see Miami Vice or Alexander– but I think he’s done some good work. He was particularly good in In Bruges and I enjoyed his supporting roles in Crazy Heart and Horrible Bosses. I don’t think he’s the next Meryl Streep or anything, but I think he’s better than he often gets credit for. Unfortunately, Total Recall doesn’t really help prove my point. While Farrell is not terrible in it, his portrayal of Quaid is a little wooden. There isn’t a lot of emotional attachment to him as a character, so you are a little less invested in what is happening to him. Quaid seems distant; you’d think if you believed that your whole life was a lie that a person would show a little more of a range of expression. The dialogue doesn’t exactly help either; the actors are required to say some pretty ridiculous things with a straight face (ex: “I give good wife.”). Groan. Though I think Farrell is the better actor, Schwarzenegger may be better wired for this kind of role.

I was, however, pleasantly surprised with Beckinsale and Biel, both of whom are required to do more than just be pretty faces. They both have a central role in the action and they did remarkably well with the more physically demanding parts of their roles. I especially don’t think of Biel as tailored for this kind of role, but she more than held her own. Beckinsale has a bit more of an action pedigree with her appearances in the Underworld films and she is fantastically bad ass in Total Recall. I’m enjoying this trend of the women being just as tough as the men; there have been a recent string of films (Haywire, Columbiana, etc.) that have featured women taking care of business. Girl power!

Some other thoughts:

  • I went to see the film with someone who has seen the original Total Recall and he said that this version is very similar. So it is less of a reimagining and more of a remake. He liked this version, but was glad that he hadn’t shelled out any cash to see it. There are some differences, but mostly it is the same basic movie. There is at least one reference to the original movie that I didn’t get; I wondered why everyone was laughing at something that I didn’t think was very funny.
  • The 2012 version is also PG-13, while the original was R. So the violence has apparently been toned down a bit (though there is some brief nudity).
  • There are some visual references that are amusing, so keep your eyes peeled. In particular, look who appears on the currency in the future. It’s a quick shot, so you have to pay attention.
  • What is up with people bringing babies to the movies? I never noticed this happening in the past, but suddenly there are a lot of people with infants at screenings. I just don’t get this and when I saw a family bring in a stroller, I rolled my eyes. Thankfully, this little one was much quieter than the baby at The Amazing Spiderman.
  • I wish they had given Bryan Cranston more to do; he has a minor part as the leader of the UFB. He’s so fantastic on Breaking Bad that it is a little frustrating to see the roles he gets in movies. Give this guy something more substantial!
  • Speaking of the UFB, it was an interesting choice to have the two surviving regions of the world be Australia (The Colony) and Europe/Asia. The United States didn’t make it? But we’re the greatest country in the world! How could this be? (tongue firmly planted in cheek)
  • Justin Timberlake better mind his Ps and Qs; his future wife (Biel) can throw a punch.
  • I couldn’t really gauge the audience’s reception to the film; as soon as it ended, everyone just got up and left, seemingly with no visible reaction. Usually I can figure out what people generally thought – you’ll hear people groan or people will clap. This audience was unreadable.
  • No need to hang around after the credits – there are no bonus scenes for this film.
  • Why yes – that is Harold (John Cho) from the Harold and Kumar movies who is working at the Rekall center.
  • Speaking of Rekall – I have no idea why they decided to spell it that way. Seems unnecessary and offends my inner grammar and spelling police.
  • I finally got to see some new trailers before this film and I am very excited for Skyfall, the new James Bond film. A friend got me into the 007 series a while ago and I look forward to the new installments. I like Daniel Craig as Bond quite a bit.

All in all, I enjoyed Total Recall much more than I expected to and I plan to watch the original over the weekend to see how it compares. Depending what I think, I may update this post with my impression of the original.  The reviews for the current film haven’t been great and I’m guessing that it is because it suffers in comparison to the 1990 version. People seem to think that this was an unnecessary remake, but I’m not sure that any remake, or film for that matter, is really all that necessary. I may even check out the Philip K. Dick short story, “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” to see how the source material ties in. If you were a fan of the Schwarzenegger film, this remake may not be worth your time and money. But as a Total Recall newbie, I thought it was fairly entertaining and I was glad I finally saw some version of the story.

Total Recall opens nationwide today.

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