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Total Recall - Totally Forgettable

Total Recall (2012)

My 2012 summer movie experience was going great, because more than ever, it was the year of the ass-kickers as super-heroes chased after each other at the box-office. So as the  Avengers, Spiderman and Batman battled for box office supremacy (and ultimately world domination) I was having the perfect summer movie affair, until I went to see Total Recall. The best thing about Total Recall is that it’s a totally forgettable experience.

Total Recall is based on Phillip Dick’s short story ‘We Can Remember it All for You Wholesale’. The 1990 original was directed by Paul Verhoeven (Robo Cop, Basic Instinct)  and starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin and Sharon Stone. This time around it has been tackled by Len Wiseman (Underworld, Live Free or Die Hard) and stars Colin Farrell, Kate Bekinsale and Jessica Biel.

In this reboot, there are more changes than just in the cast and crew. First, instead of being largely based on Mars, the movie remains on earth, a now polluted earth with only two habitable spaces the United British Federation (The United States) and The Colony (China). It means therefore that most of the cool mutants that populated the 1990 original are absent from this flick, with the exception of a certain prostitute. Of course, in this version as she is the only mutant, her appearance doesn’t make sense, but then, neither does most of the film, or rather not so much that you care one way or another.
 So, the mind-bending element of Total Recall (2012) is that it has you wondering how a remake of an Arnold Schwarzenegger flick leaves you dissatisfied about plot and character development. So your brain is left befuddled. Last you remembered, Total Recall was wonderful mindless fun. Now all the fun bits have been removed and been replaced by attempts at creating futuristic gadgets (that look like versions of the iPad and iPhone) and action sequences blatantly stripped from the Bourne Identity with a bit of Star Wars mixed in.

Jessical Beil and Colin Farrell in Total Recall (2012)Total Recall is sure proof (as though we need proof for such things) that star-power isn’t everything and that acting might well be over-rated. Let’s face it, Schwarzenegger couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag. Instead he would shoot his way out, while delivering a memorably robotic one-liner and we would love it, because he’s always perfectly well cast as a character from whom one does not expect emotional depth. His muscles do most of the talking and they are very eloquent.

Schwarzenegger action flicks had a simple and successful formula. You either take a smart sci-fi film and pack it with so much action that no one realizes or cares that it’s actually a smart movie (Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Running Man), or you take a dumb flick and pack it with so much action that no one cares or realizes that it’s completely without plot (Commando, Predator).

The genius (and I use that word very loosely) of the original film, is that it hides the fact that behind all its action and Schwarzenegger-ness, it’s actually a smart movie. This is a fact that its new producers completely missed out on. Total Recall (2012) eviscerates all that was good about the original and replaces it with nothing. One gets the sense that they were trying to create a smarter version than the original, but alas they missed a step or two as they infused neither originality nor imagination. The movie also fails because it is populated with characters you don’t care about.

Colin Farrell has a very large shirt to fill. And for him to do so the character needed to be significantly beefed (pun unintended) up. Farrell plays Dennis Quaid a factory worker who discovers that he may be a spy and that his life as he knows it is completely make-believe.

Kate Beckinsale merely wobbles around in Sharon Stone’s stilettos. In fairness, with the sole exception of Serendipity, I’ve largely found Kate Beckinsale to be a movable action flick prop. Alas even though they still allowed her to carry over the black outfits (though not tight leather) from Underworld and Van Helsing, her character doesn’t have sufficient depth to replace both Stone and Michael Ironside. Her intense anger and hatred is never explained and as a villain she inspires neither love nor hate.

Jessica Biel’s portrayal of Melina is absolutely uninteresting. Her character could easily have been left out of the film and no one would have noticed. Indeed, though the film is filled with the talents of Bill Nighy and John Cho (who in my very biased book is always worth a mention) they do nothing for the movie.

At the end of it all, Total Recall (2012) simply makes you beg for those 118 minutes of your life back.