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Tasteless 'Total Recall' remake leaves audiences underwhelmed

By Jordan Wright
On August 8, 2012

In 1990, film director Paul Verhoeven of "RoboCop" fame directed a sci-fi action thriller based on acclaimed science fiction writer Phillip K. Dick's short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale." Titled "Total Recall," the film was a critical and commercial hit that did what only one film before it managed to do; utilize Arnold Schwarzenegger in an action movie that was actually smart. I bring up this small history lesson because this original film was a fresh, original, and fascinating concept that came about at the end of an era of machismo driven action movies with little actual writing involved with them and if you haven't seen it yet, it is still a very good watch. Its 2012 remake sharing the same name however, ups the ante with more flash but significantly less substance.

 Douglas Quaid -Played by Colin Farrell- is a factory worker in a post apocalyptic world that has been plagued lately with mysterious dreams in which he is a secret agent on some sort of mission that apparently ends in his capture or death. Upon being convinced by a coworker to pursue this fantasy he has had via the services of the Rekall company, a corporation that is in the business of implanting fake and fantastical memories into their clients, Quaid discovers that his life as a humble laborer may in fact be an elaborate hoax on behalf of the corrupt world order helmed by Chancellor Vilos Cohaagen -Bryan Cranston- in hopes of using an amnesiac Quaid to flush out the rebels that he allied himself with before losing his memory.

The problems of "Total Recall" make themselves evident almost from the start when the audience is treated to a wall of text explaining the collapse of government as we know it that sets the stage for the events of the film. Many of those problems are centered on the reality that this film has a really bad habit of telling instead of showing. Quaid is supposed to be coming to terms with the fact that reality as he has accepted it is wrong, yet Farrell, who is a relatively solid actor, is not given a chance to convey the sense of confusion that he finds himself caught in. The rebels that he has defected to are apparently fighting for a sympathetic cause that convinced him to defect to their side, yet they are given know actual characterization or any memorable or associated faces. Even Farrel's dialogue with Kate Beckinsale, who plays his wife comes off as flat despite their chemistry with one another, due to the fact that they're constantly outright reminding the audience of the fact that they're married, without conveying or implying such a relationship through more subtle means.

The themes of questioning the nature of one's reality are poorly handled by way of heavy handed and pseudo intellectual dialogue about living in the present as opposed to obsessing over the past and certain visual cues that are beaten over the audiences head. From a standpoint of writing, "Total Recall" is a rather dull failure of a story that does nothing to explore any frontier of science fiction or spy thriller that hasn't already been thoroughly explored.

Even the action of the film is nothing more than competently shot. The camera work of "Total Recall" is consistently solid, never dipping below poorly handled but never rising above being average at its absolute best and derivative at its absolute worst. No matter how excessively flashy the set design is throughout the entire film, I would be lying if I said that I was impressed at all even once.

I don't want to make it sound as though "Total Recall" is a bad film because it really is not. The performances are decent, the cinematography is solid, and the effects remain adequately handled throughout the entire film. Unfortunately, this movie is not only an inferior remake of a film that is actually very good but it contains numerous strands of DNA from several other films that are far superior to it, such as "The Bourne Identity" and "Minority Report," resulting in a movie with great aspirations that ultimately rips off its contemporary far too often to retain its own identity.


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