CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: TOTAL RECALL (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(The Scene: A futuristic lab where a SCIENTIST in a white lab coat and his two beautiful female assistants attend to both MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES, both strapped into chairs with strange, bizarre, and downright weird gizmos on their heads.
SCIENTIST: Here at Rekall, with the flick of a switch, we’ll give you all the memories of experiences you always wanted to have.
MICHAEL ARRUDA: Cool!
L.L. SOARES: Bring it on!
(Babe #1 injects L.L. SOARES, while Babe #2 injects MICHAEL ARRUDA, and both men drift off to sleep.)
SCIENTIST: Now, to make sure there aren’t any problems, we shall monitor their experiences.
(SCIENTIST presses a button on MA’s monitor: MA is running with bulls, skydiving, winning at black jack, surrounded by beautiful women.)
VOICE-OVER NARRATOR: Without doubt, Michael Arruda is the most interesting man alive.
MA: Stay thirsty, my friends!
SCIENTIST: Why do I suddenly feel like having a beer? (Shuts off monitor). Let’s check on the other one. (Turns on LS’s monitor.)
(It’s a dark scene in the woods, with the sound of crickets chirping. Suddenly, screams and shrieks fill the air.)
SCIENTIST: What the—?
(Two scantily clad women tear through the woods, screaming. Pursuing them with a crazed look in his eye is LS, wearing clothes covered in blood, and wielding a chainsaw over his head.)
LS: Come to Papa!
SCIENTIST: Does anyone have a pair of 3D glasses on them?
(DISSOLVE to later in the experience, as MA & LS wake up.)
MA (opening his eyes): That was wild!
LS (wearing glasses like a professor and reading from extensive notes): I dunno. I thought the severed body parts lacked sufficient detail. Also, the blood wasn’t the right consistency….
SCIENTIST (handing MA a piece of paper): Here you go.
(MA looks at it and shrieks.)
LS: What is it?
MA: It’s the bill! (hands it to LS)
LS (eyes grow to the size of dinner plates): Whoa! We’ll settle this after our review.
MA: Good idea. I’ll start. Today we’re reviewing TOTAL RECALL (2012), a remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Both movies are based on the Philip K. Dick story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.”
This one stars Colin Farrell in the Arnold Schwarzenegger role, and was directed by Len Wiseman, the guy responsible for the UNDERWORLD movies—he directed two of them and wrote all of them. To me, this is the story of this movie, Wiseman’s involvement, and is ultimately why I didn’t like it, because in a nutshell, it reminded me of an UNDERWORLD movie.
LS: Well, it must have been an above-average UNDERWORLD movie, because this one is better paced, better acted, and has a better story than any of the UNDERWORLD films I’ve seen. I’m no big fan of Wiseman or UNDERWORLD either, but I thought TOTAL RECALL was definitely a step up for the guy. At least he had superior material to work with than yet another vampire vs. werewolf rehash.
MA: It’s the future, and the world is a rather bleak place, as there are only two spots left on the planet where people live, the area that today is Great Britain, and Australia, which is where all the factory workers toil.
LS: Actually, it’s the United Federation of Britain, which looks to be made up of the continent of Europe, plus a little more, all cobbled together. And at the other end of the world is The Colony, which geographically looks close to where Australia would be (then again, I’m pretty bad at geography), but it could also be a stand-in for the United States back before the Revolutionary War.
MA: Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is one of these factory workers, trying to live the dream with his beautiful wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) but ultimately failing to get ahead. He’s also been troubled lately by a recurring dream in which he’s on the run with another beautiful woman, Melina (Jessica Biel), trying to elude government soldiers. The dream makes him feel as if he’s supposed to be doing something important, which of course in real life he doesn’t see as the case since he’s working in a factory.
LS: But not just any factory. He works in the factory that manufactures the synthetic android soldiers that make up the government’s army. This means he knows those things inside and out, and this will be useful as the movie develops.
MA: Dissatisfied with his life, Quaid decides to check out Rekall, a company that implants fake memories into their clients’ minds so that they can experience all the things they would like to do in real life but can’t, sort of the ultimate in virtual reality. The one catch is that you’re not supposed to choose something you do for real, because that screws up the system. Quaid chooses “secret agent” but just as he’s about to be inserted into the virtual world of Rekall, the attending scientist discovers that Quaid really is a secret agent, but before he can disconnect Quaid from the system, government soldiers break in. Quaid reacts by killing all of the soldiers, and suddenly he realizes that, for him to have done that, he’s not who he thought he was.
LS: Or is it all part of the Rekall experience?
MA: See, that question is exactly the one I wanted the movie to tease us with, but it really doesn’t. It plays things so straight it leaves little room for us to speculate on these sorts of questions.
LS: Doesn’t Rekall have a kind of “semi-legal” or borderline illegal feel to it? There’s something fishy about the technology and the place it’s done in. Also, it seems like an incredible violation of privacy. Sure they give you new exciting memories of things you never did, but first they go through an extensive examination of your real memories, and see everything you might want to keep private. I’m not sure if it felt worth the price.
MA: I didn’t care.
Turns out, Quaid really is a spy, and the life he thought he’d been living all these years is a lie. His wife is not his wife, but an agent out to kill him. He escapes from her and is reunited with the girl in his dream, Melina. Together, Quaid and Melina try to complete their mission, which involves helping the resistance stop the evil leader of the world, President Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) before he wipes all of them off the face of the earth with his evil army of battle droids, all the while trying to stay one step ahead of Lori who his hellbent on killing her “husband.”
LS: Cohaagen? Almost sounds like President Quahog. What is this, an episode of FAMILY GUY?
But seriously, I was going to chastise you for giving away spoilers, but the truth is, this movie doesn’t really have any spoilers. You’d think in a movie about memories and paranoia and things not being what they seem—which is the whole point of why you’d adapt a story by Philip K. Dick, in the first place!—that there would be all kinds of twists and turns and shocking surprises, but there aren’t any in this version of TOTAL RECALL. Once Farrell’s character finds out—via going to Rekall to have his memories toyed with—that he is really a super spy—that is where the surprises end, and that’s about 15 minutes into the movie!
MA: Yep, and that’s why I really didn’t like this movie all that much, because as you said, for a tale about virtual worlds and false memories, it’s all rather straightforward and mundane, disappointingly so. I really expected some decent twists and some genuine suspense about what was real and what wasn’t, but the screenplay by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback never exploits these potential fascinating tidbits. Instead, the story remains underwhelming and seems like just an excuse to showcase endless chase scenes.
LS: Wiseman does like to beat an action scene to death, doesn’t he? Like those cool floating cars. At first, the scene is really cool, and you’re appreciating the novelty of it, but then the chase scene just goes on and on. It almost wears out its welcome. But it’s still better than the action scenes in the UNDERWORLD movies.
MA: And while the acting performances for the most part are all fine, the characters aren’t really developed either.
Colin Farrell’s best scenes as Douglas Quaid come early on in the movie when he’s talking to his buddy, Harry (Bokeem Woodbine), about being stuck in his life. He vents his frustrations about working his butt off without anything to show for it. He’s even passed over for a promotion when the job is given to a less qualified candidate who has more connections. These scenes ring true, as they connect to real life situations and are much more satisfying than the endless action scenes which permeate the rest of this movie. Once this happens, Quaid is reduced to a bland hero who is about as interesting as a video game character.
LS: Yeah, that scene at Rekall, where the soldiers rush in and he takes them all out single-handedly (if you saw the movie’s trailer, you saw the scene) looked more like a video game than a movie. It’s hard to care about the people being killed or feel any real tension about whether the main character is in danger, if you can’t even believe the soldiers he’s fighting are real.
And were you confused about the whole synthezoid thing, too? Some of them are synthetic androids. Others are guys in battle suits. But they all look the same, and I’m guessing this is on purpose and the real humans are in charge. But you constantly wonder, whenever Quaid kills a bunch of them, are there any humans in those suits at all? And you’ll never know for sure.
(A group of BATTLE DROIDS surround them.)
DROID #1: Some of us are droids!
DROID #2: Some of us are human!
MA: All of you are irritating! Don’t you have something else to do?
LS: There’s one way to know for sure who’s human and who’s not. (lifts axe). Humans bleed!
DROID #1: All of us are running! (Droids flee.)
MA: I enjoyed Farrell much more in last year’s FRIGHT NIGHT (2011) remake. He took the character of vampire Jerry Dandrige, gave him an edge, and made it his own. Here, he doesn’t give Quaid any edge at all. I have to admit, I missed Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wise-cracking self. At least he was good for a few laughs along the way. Farrell’s Quaid is boring.
LS: Not FRIGHT NIGHT again!
MA (shrugs and shakes his head): Farrell starred in FRIGHT NIGHT last year. What do you want me to say? You want me to compare his performance to last year’s HORRIBLE BOSSES (2011)? I would, but he wasn’t the lead in that one.
LS: Arnold Schwarzenegger was so much more fun in the original TOTAL RECALL (1990) movie, that I found myself missing him once in a while, too. At least he had a personality—even if it was a sometimes goofy one!
But you’re right, Farrell’s Quaid is not that exciting for a lead character. At first he seems like an everyman character, toiling away in the factory (although he’s an everyman with the looks of a movie star), then he seems like just another bland action star. I bet Adrien Brody could have done a better job with this role, like he did in PREDATORS (2010).
MA: Good choice! Brody would have been terrific, but then again, I expected Farrell to be better.
Kate Beckinsale doesn’t do a whole lot as relentless assassin Lori Quaid other than look hot and angry throughout as she chases Quaid across the world, but you know what? This is fine by me! I think I could watch Beckinsale run around in that tight get-up shooting at people all day. Seriously, she was my favorite part of this movie, which isn’t saying much, because I didn’t find much about this one that I liked, but without having to show much range or much acting ability, Beckinsale succeeded in holding my interest every time she was on screen, and then some!
LS: I love Beckinsale, too, and I think she’s wasted in those UNDERWORLD movies she does with Wiseman. However, here, I actually thought she had a better role, because she was finally playing against type as the bad guy! Beckinsale makes a great villain, and her single-mindedness throughout the movie—all she wants to do is track Quaid down and kill him—makes her a force to be reckoned with. I like her much better as a villain here than I do as the generic action hero she plays in a lot of her movies. And she’s so damn beautiful.
MA: Jessica Biel is fine as Melina, but like Farrell’s Quaid, her character is underdeveloped.
LS: To a degree, because none of the characters in this movie are developed very well, but I liked Biel a lot more than you did. I thought she was the yin to Beckinsale’s yang. It was no coincidence that the two women look kind of similar in some scenes—a more clever director would have had more fun with that in a damn Philip K. Dick movie, which should be all about screwing with your (and the character’s) mind. I thought Beckinsale was the better actress, and a much more forceful screen presence, but Biel has come a long way and I thought she was a great counterpoint. The two women were easily the best things in this movie.
MA: Bryan Cranston, a fine actor who seems to look different in every movie I see him in, is largely wasted here as your standard movie baddie, Cohaagen.
LS: I like Cranston a lot, mainly from his work on the excellent AMC TV series BREAKING BAD, but yeah, his role here doesn’t amount to much. Just another corrupt authority figure.
I also liked Bokeem Woodbine, who you mentioned before as Farrell’s buddy, Harry. He has a kind of realness to him that a lot of the other characters don’t have, and I liked his character.
There is just one scene, in a bank, where Woodbine’s Harry plays some mind games with Quaid, where this movie even attempts to dig into the paranoia that enveloped the world of Philip K. Dick, and Woodbine handles it well, even if it isn’t as well written as it could have been. Otherwise, director Len Wiseman doesn’t have a clue what to do with his source material.
MA: Again, this one was directed by Len Wiseman, the guy responsible for the UNDERWORLD series, so if you’ve seen any of those movies, you know how TOTAL RECALL plays out. I found the films very similar in tone and style. They’re slick and nice to look at, but in terms of content, they’re pure fluff.
All the action scenes began to look the same after a while too, and in all honesty, this was a movie where I grew bored in the second half, having grown tired of one action scene after another. I did like the elevator sequence, though, as that one was a little more exciting than most.
I also didn’t like the look of the synthetic police force at all. They looked like they were STAR WARS clone rejects sent over by George Lucas.
LS: I completely agree! And I’ve already given my two cents about how it was hard to care about synthetic police being blown away—even if they don’t always differentiate between the droids and the real human cops.
YODA: Droids or humans, humans or droids, confusing they are! The way of the Jedi is clarity we seek. Confusion, we avoid, harmony and vision, the Force provides.
LS: Clarity? So, why the hell do you talk like that? I can’t understand anything you’re saying!
YODA: Rude you are! (Exits.)
MA: The lady with the three boobs was an interesting bit, and I liked the scene where Quaid has to slice his wrist open to remove the phone embedded under his skin, but why he didn’t bleed to death I have no idea!
LS: The lady with the three boobs was onscreen for about two seconds. Blink and you’d miss her. But that, combined with the phone removal scene you mentioned, takes up about two minutes of the actual movie. I’m surprised you found them so memorable you had to mention them.
MA: There wasn’t much else worth mentioning.
LS: You bring up silly little stuff like that, and yet you completely forget to mention The Fall, which I thought was pretty cool. A gigantic metal capsule that literally falls from one place at the United Federation of Britain, straight through the planet to The Colony, passing through the earth’s core! Scientifically, I’m sure this entire concept is a bunch of hooey, but it looked breathtaking at times. This is the only way to travel between the two parts of the world (the rest of the planet has been blasted by nukes) and thousands of people get onboard every day to commute to jobs in the other country. The Fall plays a pivotal part in the plot of this movie, and using it to travel between the good and bad countries is crucial to the storyline. How could you completely ignore it in your review?
MA: I ignored it because for the most part, the film ignored it! It passes through the planet’s core, right? Now that’s a cool concept, but the film doesn’t go into any kind of detail about it at all. In the movie, the Fall is about as interesting as one of those droids! When it’s mentioned in the movie, it’s only in the context of how much the folks who use it hate it. The filmmakers don’t even try to dazzle us with the science behind it. They’re more interested in unending action scenes.
And you thought it looked breathtaking? I didn’t. I wasn’t impressed at all.
LS: Impressed or not, it was a major plot point, and it had a big part in the final showdown between Farrell and Cranston.
MA: I seriously doubt people are going to be talking about the Fall after this movie. They might chat about the three-boobed lady though!
Overall, TOTAL RECALL is about as fun as watching someone play a video game. Pass the popcorn, please! Still, I’ve certainly seen worse movies, and this one does look good and does sport a decent cast, even if nobody is going to win any awards here. It also has Kate Beckinsale.
LS: And Jessica Biel.
MA: I give it two knives.
LS: I actually liked this one more than you did, especially the performance by Kate Beckinsale, which we totally agree on, and to a lesser extent Jessica Biel. Beckinsale is just so terrific in her role here, it almost vindicated all of the awful action movies she’s been in.
It’s funny, I first noticed Beckinsale in little art movies like Whit Stillman’s THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO (1998), and thought, “Wow, this girl has a future as a movie star.” But who knew it would be a future made up mostly of action movies? It wouldn’t bother me if most of them were actually good. I was just so happy to finally see her in something like TOTAL RECALL, where I enjoyed her character so much.
But I’m also a big fan of writer Philip K. Dick, and this movie does not do him justice. You expect a lot more in the way of twists and surprises when you see his name connected to a movie, and Len Wiseman was not up to the task of doing this one right at all.
But, despite this, I thought TOTAL RECALL moved at a fast pace, it kept me riveted throughout, and the cast was pretty solid. It fulfilled what you want to see when you sit down in a movie theater. So for that reason, I give it 3 knives.
But it could have been so much better!
MA: Yeah, it could have been clever, creative, imaginative, take your pick! Heck, I would have settled for inspired.
LS: So I guess we’re done.
SCIENTIST: That’s all well and good, but what about my fee?
LS: I think I hear Kate Beckinsale calling me!
MA: No, that’s Jessica Biel calling you! Kate Beckinsale is calling me!
LS: Who cares who’s calling who? Let’s skedaddle!
(The guys run out of the place, chased by the SCIENTIST and his assistants in fast-motion)
© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives the 2012 version of TOTAL RECALL~ two knives!
LL Soares givesthe 2012 version of TOTAL RECALL~ three knives!