Thursday, August 9, 2012

Review: "Total Recall"

So the overwhelming feeling I had while watching this movie ended up being, "Huh, this isn't as bad as I was expecting."  If you can set aside the loss of that comfort 80's children have when faced with a campy, out-of-date technology filled groan fest (yes I am aware that the original was released in 1990) then you can get through this movie.  And if you can approach it as a brand new film, with no predecessor to which you should be comparing it, then what you end up with is a fairly enjoyable film.  With that said, let's assume I did just that and move on with things.

Based on Phillip K Dick's 1966 short story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" (first appearing in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction) , the film follows Douglas Quail, an ordinary man who dreams of a better life on his quest to get new memories.  Sparse on details, the original story played with the idea that you were never really sure whether Douglas was making it all up, or if the discoveries he was making about his life as a secret agent were really true.  The British  version of Life on Mars played with this trope quite well but I found that I could have done with a little more of that in this film.  Almost immediately upon discovering his "superpowers", super secret agent Douglas (played by Colin Farrell) goes into survivor mode and almost never butts into a situation that we as the audience believes is unreal.  Where Doug is sometimes confused, we are always aware of what is real and what is not and for my part I would have rather been a little confused with Doug instead of watching him play confused, I think it woud have better served the story.

Other things that might have better served the story included more than one-note females in the lead roles.  And let's set aside for a moment that there are very few kick ass female action stars (Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2, Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, possibly Meryl Streep in The River Wild) but even a little depth from either Kate Beckinsale or Jessica Biel would have been nice.  Beckinsale spends the whole film playing one note of angry (the look-down-your-nose-and-whip-your-head-back-and-forth-while-walking).  Jessica Biel too was a non-entity within the context of the film.  She had no role to play and her only real act of courage involved having a fist fight with Beckinsale's character even though she was clearly the far superior fighter, which just ends up making her look week and silly.

One thing I did find very interesting was the set design as it hearkened back to Blade Runner's vision of the future, something I think is very interesting and certainly as far as visual quotes are concerned, a good move.  What didn't make sense about that was the fact that in this vision of the world only Great Britain and Australia have survived the apocalypse to the presence of almost overwhelming amounts of asian symbolism and structure in The Colony (the new name for Australia) was a little unnerving.  It felt like some sort of jumbling of what could have been really great social commentary but, if you're willing to just accept the visuals at face value, it works surprisingly well and serves to give a sort of "superficial depth" to the whole thing (yes, I'm aware that was an oxymoron).  Essentially they're borrowing from Blade Runner in order to avoid having to flesh out the truth of what they've created.  It's a little dishonest but it works surprisingly well.

In the end, what we have is an enjoyable ride, a fantasy that has just enough of a disheartening premise to have us rooting for the lead and a bad guy we can really hate.  While Beckinsale's performance is a little stale, the action is high octane and the special effects are quite well done.  If you're looking for a solid action film to see on the weekend check this one out, it's exactly what it pretends to be.

My rating?  3 out of 4

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