2012-08-14 / Front Page
Better to forget ‘Total Recall’
Len Wiseman’s “Total Recall” manages to rummage through our worst fears. More or less a reimagining of the 1990 film, also inspired by the Philip K. Dick short story, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” the film made me wish that I too, could visit a Rekall store — so I could buy memories of a better movie.
“Total Recall” depicts a post-apocalyptic world decimated by chemical warfare, and Rekall is where people go for a healthy dose of drug-induced fantasy. George Orwell’s Big Brother is alive and well here.
Science fiction writers often use desperate themes as cautionary metaphors, creative muckrakes of current problems and injustices. But these stories can also end up reminiscent of one’s pessimistic old aunt. Just once I’d like to see a solid, well-made film advancing a rosy, progressive future.
Shadows of “Blade Runner” (1982) and a host of other grim Hollywood depictions of the future, it’s always raining in the life of factory worker Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) — most likely because we dumb humans have ruined the environment. Naturally, our leading man pines for a better life. Shooting through the center of the Earth in an elevator that transports him daily from the ghetto he lives in to the plant where he builds synthetic policemen, Doug daydreams of being someone important, someone that matters — maybe even a secret agent. Rekall is able to grant him this wish.
However, there is a snafu during his potion injecting, a classic visual cliché not very far removed from the scene depicting Frankenstein’s first breath. Apparently, one cannot ask for a memory too close to reality. Rekall’s Bob McClane (John Cho) loses it when it appears Doug may actually be a spy.
The concept of the film is as intriguing as it was the first time around, and the setting serves as an apt showcase for cutting edge special effects. Otherwise, nothing here warrants a remake. It seems as though all the creative elements of “Total Recall” redux were mixed up and pieced together at random.
Recalling the old Memorex ad, the plot revolves around one question: Is he Quaid, factory worker with a fantasy, or Carl Hauser, spy extraordinaire? Back and forth the quandary goes, the accompanying, nonstop action scenes charging ahead in a barrage of relentless violence. Whoever he is, people want to kill him, maybe even his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale).
That is, if she’s really his wife. Oh, and there’s another woman, Melina (Jessica Biel), both in real life and in his dreams — or whatever they are. The implications here are obvious, portending that love, marriage, and all their attending vagaries won’t be changing very much in the future. But boy, someone among the screenwriters sure had an ax to grind.
As the sweet, caring wife, Lori’s other side starts to come out once the movie’s heart-thumping, frenzied pace picks up. Medusa has nothing on this conniving harridan.
If you wanted to go out on a limb, the case could be made that the film’s chaotic journey is a poor man’s explanation of relativity — Einstein’s theory acted out for the great unwashed. Too bad it’s so cacophonous, so poorly realized and, essentially, so humorless.
Colin Farrell as Doug, the fancy amnesiac, is no help.
Doug, or Carl, or whoever, is grim and uninteresting, begging the question, why should I care about you?
Sure, he’s living in a depressing, autocratic environment. But things are tough all over, pal.
You’ve got to give me something more than just three varieties of furrowed brow.
The film’s social message — about the haves, the have-nots and the civil war in which Doug has become a major operative, or so he thinks — is treated far too perfunctorily. Unable to remember why they chose to see “Total Recall” in the first place, audiences will likely leave the theater thinking, in a variation of the classic song, “No thanks for the memory.”