Mark Reviews Movies

Total Recall (2012)


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Len Wiseman

Cast: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine, Bill Nighy, John Cho

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity, and language)

Running Time: 1:58

Release Date: 8/3/12

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 2, 2012

Everyone is bound to Earth in the new Total Recall. That raises the question as to why the opening text points out that living in outer space is Earth's most precious resource, and the wording of that information raises even more questions about screenwriters Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback's grasp of syntactic logic (If these living spaces are outside the realm of the planet Earth, they can't technically be a resource of it, now can they?).

Logic is in short supply in Total Recall, a loose remake of the 1990 film of the same name (which is itself a loose adaptation of the Philip K. Dick short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale"). Perhaps the supply itself is equal in measure to the movie's originator (Remember the easily breakable glass that surrounds the colony on Mars?), but it's on a much bigger scale.

The movie is set on an Earth that has been ravaged by chemical warfare (The areas still affected are called "No Zones," as in the response to the question, "Can I go that zone?") and is now divided into two surviving areas: the United Federation of Britain and the Colony, which was formerly known as Australia. "Topside" in Britain is home to the ruling class, while the workers reside in the Colony. We get a good look at these two distinct areas, and the art direction is familiar but effective. While the capital of the UFB is a sprawling metropolis with roads high in the air for hovering cars, the main part of the Colony is an extended slum, where apartments are like boxes and buildings are haphazardly connected with more boxy tenements.

At the hub of the entire operation is a mode of transportation called "the Fall," which is only halfway right. See, the Fall is the only way to go from one side of the planet to the other. In a feat of engineering that would likely be impossible even in a world where a large majority of the population isn't dead and resources aren't limited to two island nations, the massive structure is like an amusement park ride that drops straight into the Earth, through the planet's core, and comes up the other side.

The physics of this operation are staggering (Anyone who has ridden a roller coaster should see the problem with the potential-to-kinetic-energy equation here). Perhaps in a resistance-free environment (impossible, naturally) this could work, but the entire thing is a hulking collection of metal (The UFB must be trillions in debt, just for the daily cost of lubricating the thing). That's not even to mention the biggest question involved in the project: How the hell did they build this thing, considering the pressures and temperatures involved?

We might not be thinking such things had the story not forced us to do so. As in the original, Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is discontent with his life—from his crummy job to his crummy apartment to his far-from-crummy wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale). He wants more and decides to go to Rekall, a company that promises to implant memories into one's brain that are so real the person believes they have actually lived them.

While there, Quaid has a flash of inspiration when the operator mentions a spy scenario. A routine polygraph test reveals that Quaid actually is a spy, but he doesn't remember it. When the federal police show up to arrest him, Quaid kills an entire team in a few quick movements (Director Len Wiseman shows it in a fake one-take, a choice that makes infinitely more sense than the reliance on random slow motion shots and lens flares from randomly placed light sources that he shows through the rest of the movie). It turns out that his life is a sham, set up by the UFB's chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston). His wife is actually a spy, too, placed with Quaid to ensure he doesn't get out of hand.

The plot, which teases us only to a certain extent that Quaid's new reality might actually be the counterfeit, is a straightforward string of events that exists only to give us chase after chase and gunfight after gunfight. The architecture of the Colony lends itself to a rooftop chase, complete with people repeatedly falling through things (windows, roofs, awnings). There's a highway chase in the UFB in which Quaid and Melina (Jessica Biel), who knows him from his past life and is literally the girl of his dreams, take turns evading an army of police vehicles on the levitating highway. It's routine stuff, although that latter chase switches things up by at one point having the cars hanging from the underside of the road instead of hovering above it.

We mostly know how the spy stuff turns out, so the climax of Total Recall involves an attempt to sabotage a military invasion (Any assault that is announced in advance and originates from one place is likely doomed to fail, anyway). Because it's all running, climbing, shooting, and explosions, that's when we get a lot of time to consider the workings of that behemoth of a setpiece, and, man, does it not make any sense.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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