Total Recall

What's keeping those buildings floating there?
"What is real?"

As promised, today I will report my experiences with the 2012 remake of Total Recall, a 1990 film  starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Being a big, Hollywood, science fiction film, it is naturally based on a short story written by Philip K. Dick. This re-hash swaps Arnold for Colin Ferrell (In his second movie based on a Philip K. Dick story, the first being Minority Report), backed up by Kate Beckinsale as his fake wife/cop trying to kill him, and Jessica Biel as his actual love interest. The supporting cast includes Bryan Cranston (who you know either from Malcolm in the Middle as Malcolm's dad, or more recently as a high school teacher turned meth dealer in Breaking Bad), John Cho (of Harold and Kumar fame), Bill Nighy (appearing in a movie with Kate Beckinsale not for the first time, the other being Underworld) and Bokeem Woodbine who honestly gets his first important role in a major film (being a pimp who rapes Jennifer Lawrence in The Poker House doesn't count).

Give me the memory of not having been in Alexander.
The movie follows more or less the plot of the original, with some major setting changes. The original took place on Mars, and involved a cover up of an alien artifact that would make the atmosphere of Mars breathable. This film in contrast takes place on an irradiated or otherwise uninhabitable Earth (it isn't really made clear) where only The Colony (evidentally occupying Australia) and the United Federation of Britain (Taking up a sizable portion of western Europe) remain as two super nations. Citizens travel from The Colony to UFB via a giant gravity elevator called The Fall, that goes straight through the earth's core. The change in setting seems pretty arbitrary, though the original story was set on Earth rather than Mars. I'm not sure how you send an elevator through the core of the Earth without everyone being roasted alive, but it's the future and they have robots, so I'll assume they've figured that out. Really the movie movie is full of questions like this, and most of them don't involve thermodynamics.

This is how they should have probably looked.
A lot of my questions had to do with several improbable action scenes that occur over the course of the movie. For instance, I noted that in the entire movie, you only see a person reload a gun once. Kate Beckinsale fires her revolver over a dozen times in one scene without ever seeming concerned about running out of bullets. I know that's kind of nitpicky, but I had thought we'd left things like that in the action movie past. There were a few other moments where characters hesitate to attack for reasons of pure cinematic convenience, and in perhaps the most difficult to believe scene, there is a fight on the top and sides of the gravity elevator while it is in motion, headed toward's the center of the Earth, at what I would assume is terminal velocity. My confusion is less about how they are fighting and more about how they still have skin. These didn't comprise deal breakers for me in terms of enjoying the movie, but they definitely decreased my overall enjoyment and made it tough to take the movie seriously as a science fiction film.

I don't see the allure of three boobs, sorry futurehooker.
The action was of consistent quality, and with the exception of the instances mentioned above the plot more or less makes sense. There is however a glaring exception to that which decreased the impact of the ending. While the badscarygovernment might be thwarted, and by rights they should have been, the problem that precipitated conflict between the UFB and The Colony, one of overpopulation, is not resolved in any way at the end of the movie. So while the 'good guys' had 'won' I was left with a big whoopity-doo feeling about it, because starvation, joblessness, and ultimately the death of probably millions was still in the offing. The events of the movie weren't rendered totally senseless, but still the plot didn't really feel resolved.

Those shoes seem a little impractical for police actions.
Other unresolved aspects were more satisfying, and kept true to the original story. There is the implication, hinted at several times throughout the plot, that everything that Douglas Quaid (Ferrell) experiences is actually just a fantasy, and that he is in fact still at the Rekall facility, lost in his own mind. I liked that they kept this aspect of the story intact, because it makes the science fiction aspects of the story feel like more than just an excuse to blow up robots on a future elevator in the center of the Earth. The movie wasn't making me do a lot of deep thinking, but it was nice that there was a hint of thought going on at least. The script was not devoid of plot holes, but was consistently paced, despite occasionally going heavy on the action (some of those scenes seemed to drag on forever).

I think that one guy's using his flashlight to check out her ass.
The cast delivers serviceable performances, with this movie probably representing one of the better efforts of Jessica Biel (who seems to finally be finished freaking out after her separation from her 7th Heaven inspired persona six years ago). Kate Beckinsale is an old hand at second rate action films of the sci-fi/fantasy genre and delivers an especially pissed of performance in this film. A lot of the action between Beckinsale and Biel boils down to a really violent cat fight, not even over Colin Ferrell. They just seem to hate each other to an excessive degree, and go to great lengths to murder each other. The supporting cast delivers unmemorable but inoffensive performances, and I guess in the end that's the real issue here. This movie wasn't horrible, it just wasn't very good. I enjoyed it while I was watching it, but once it was done I was ready to forget it. I don't think it was an issue of plotting or characters, the whole film was just executed in what felt like a sloppy, halfhearted fashion. It had all the components needed for a good science fiction film, it just shot them out of a cannon at movie audiences unassembled. As far as how it compares to the 1990 film, well that film was definitely better because the director gives the impression that he actually cared about it. I found the plot to be a bit sillier (alien artifact magic air machine!) but it was executed in an enthusiastic way. If you have nothing better to do with your afternoon, Total Recall won't kill you, but if you don't see it you probably aren't missing anything important.

Now finished with remakes of old Schwarzenegger flicks, join me on Saturday for a retrospective on the state of the comic book movie, and how it has changed over the years.
We've come a ways from the original Superman Movies.

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