Friday, August 03, 2012

Total Recall

TOTAL RECALL (Len Wiseman, 2012)

In TOTAL RECALL factory worker Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) has a vivid dream in which he and a woman are being pursued by synthetic soldiers.  He wakes up to remember that he doesn’t live the thrilling life of a spy and that the beautiful woman beside him in bed is not the one which he fantasizes spending adventures with.

Quaid lives in The Colony, which used to be called Australia and is essentially the rundown home for the blue collar laborers in the United Federation of Britain.   A global chemical war has left much of the planet uninhabitable at the end of the 21st century, so working stiffs like Quaid must take an elevator-like transport--a sub-subway, if you will--that passes through the Earth’s core to the more affluent territory.  Times are tough in The Colony as the UFB’s Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) seeks to crack down on terrorists fighting back on the downtrodden’s behalf.

Feeling as though his life is missing something, Quaid eventually decides to visit Rekall, a company that can implant memories as if one actually experienced them. The only caveat is that customers cannot select memories that overlap with their real lives.  Quaid chooses the spy package, but things go wrong almost immediately.  The Rekall employee (John Cho) accuses Quaid of lying about his past, and next thing he knows the room is surrounded by law enforcement.  Through an exceptional display of physical skill and mental calculation, Quaid escapes and returns home to his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale).
Are Quaid’s experiences part of what he purchased, or is he really a secret agent?  The appearance of Melina (Jessica Biel), the woman from his dreams, further confuses Quaid as to what is real. Director Len Wiseman’s remake doesn’t have much interest in the thematic questions the premise raises.  This TOTAL RECALL is less humorous and contemplative than Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 adaptation of the Philip K. Dick short story that is the basis for both films.  Nevertheless, it succeeds on the modest aims of a self-contained action/science fiction film.  The action scenes mostly work, particularly some chase sequences, although Wiseman thoroughly botches the spatial element of a fight in an elevator.

While clearly inspired by other films--BLADE RUNNER is liberally borrowed from--the production and art design are quite beautiful.  Considering that Wiseman utilized an almost monochrome palette for the two UNDERWORLD films he directed, it’s nice to see him utilizing more color in the noir-like gloom of TOTAL RECALL’s dystopia.  

Wiseman is better off when he frees himself from the strictures of replicating Verhoeven’s version.  The obvious nods to the other film are more distracting than anything.  The hat tips feel less like homage and more like dutiful item box checking. While Wiseman’s slick update probably has no good reason for existing other than a rights owner wanting to cash in a chip that takes advantage of today’s special effects, this TOTAL RECALL is a solidly entertaining blast of summer movie spectacle.

Grade: B

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