Total Recall Review By Adam
This new version of Total Recall is the cinematic equivalent of a vibrator: it is whirling, sleek, shiny and utterly artificial, yet it gets you where you need to go. But just like the plastic paramour it resembles, Recall is soulless – it has batteries instead of a beating heart.
Set in a dystopian future, Recall follows Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) a blue collar worker who everyday travels through the earth’s core to construct robots in an overcrowded factory. The products of his toil function as a synthetic police force for the oppressive Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) the totalitarian leader of The United Federation of Britain. Despite coming home to the stunning Lori (Kate Beckinsale) every night, Quaid has an unshakeable dissatisfaction with his life. On a whim, he visits Rekall, a brainwashing operation that offers perfect memories for a price. Once the technicians get inside Quaid’s head they realise they are not the first to do so; Quaid has been seriously tampered with and may or may not be a secret agent. Confused as to his true identity, Quaid sets out to uncover the truth.
Has it been over twenty years since Paul Verhoeven got our asses to Mars? Yup. And now, once again, the geniuses of Hollywood™ want to prove the validity of the law of diminishing returns. Though originally lauded as a pure take on the original work of Phillip K. Dick, this Recall is no such thing. It is a ‘re-imaging’ by Kurt Wimmer (and Mark Bomback), the dude responsible for Ultraviolet and Equilibrium. Wimmer’s take is almost ambitious in its ability to underwhelm. His script is far and away the weakest element of Recall, which is almost non-sensical, as the script is the genesis of almost all productions. Wimmer’s script is a serious cut and paste job: a bit of Minority Report here, a bit of The Terminator there. Unfortunately, in his selection process he has eschewed almost all of the good parts of Verhoeven’s original: no Mars, no mutants (the three-titted woman reappears, which makes ZERO sense), no Kuato and no X-rated violence (the trailblazing original was originally refused classification; sadly, this version is as inoffensive as it gets).
Wimmer’s script is missing two vital ingredients: comedy and suspense. This film has an almost zero laugh quota. That is a real shame, as Colin Farrell is at his best when he is allowed to utilise his cheeky charm. Hell, he is playing a duplicitous character: couldn’t one of the variants have had a sense of humour? Nope, he is just a combination of confused squints, stubble and pectorals in Recall. As for the suspense? Forget about it. Wimmer and director Len Wiseman have cinematic ADD: every scene with goosebump potential prematurely ejaculates. In the original, it was freaky when the espionage mask started to malfunction; here, it is just a mix of pixels that malfunctions ten seconds into the scene. The film even has a gotcha false ending…except it doesn’t even commit to it for more than thirty seconds.
What Recall does have going for it is its technical credits: this is an amazing looking film. Almost every aspect of this production — from its pristine special effects to its expansive sets — is the best that money can buy. It is so good, in fact, that it even nullifies Wimmer’s crap script — even his dumbest concepts are unquestionably and beautifully realised. Recall’s Blade Runner-esque aesthetics makes it a visually atmospheric film and it positively coasts on this atmosphere; even Gus Van Sant would struggle to make a boring film with all these bells and whistles. You could turn the sound off in its entirety and Recall would still work: this is a film that was made to sell Blu-rays.
With this film, Wiseman proves once and for all that he is the new reigning king of slick, inoffensive, humdrum studio hacks. Underworld and Die Hard 4 were both well made, but were utterly devoid of personality. Wiseman’s direction in Recall is so pedestrian that he makes Brett Ratner look like an auteur. The only part of Wiseman’s direction that shows signs of life are a bunch of semi-effective chase sequences. It is obvious he is quite taken with parkour, as most of his characters are prone to leaping off rooftops. If you switch off your brain, this film works on a visceral level.
A big drawcard for this film is its sexy cast. Most fanboys ruined their pyjamas when they found out that Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel would be going mano-a-mano, but Wiseman doesn’t even have the good sense to sex-up proceedings. He has two of cinema’s sexiest stars and he dresses them like they walked out of a thrift shop. Due to the weak script, Biel has zero chemistry with Farrell; there is barely a flicker of sexual tension in any of their scenes. Beckinsale at least has the good sense to chew the scenery. It’s fun to watch her go after Farrell like a terminator, despite the fact that her character has zero motivation to do so.
I think that Recall’s biggest weakness is its underwhelming use of manipulated realities. Here, we have a film where the protagonist doesn’t know what is real, but we the audience, always do. Wimmer and Wiseman should have dropped the bottom out of this film multiple times and fucked with our minds, but it never happens. Inception showed that the audience will go with you if you take risks, but this new Recall plays everything unbelievably safe. I guess you have to when your film costs $125 million. But here is the catch, this new Recall is PG-13, has a sexy cast and a plethora of digital effects, yet it has made $105 million dollars. Verhoeven’s original cost $60 million, was rated X (which was later amended) and starred the Austrian Oak Arnold Schwarzenegger and it made… $260 milion.
Despite the rampant negativity of this review, I didn’t hate this new version. This Recall takes such little risks that there is very little to dislike. The flip side of that coin? There is very little to love. If you are in the mood for a disposable action flick with banging special effects, Recall is the ticket, but like most acts of autoeroticism (please permit me to return my vibrator analogy) – it is instantly forgettable.