Mania Review: Total Recall -

Mania Grade: D+

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  • Starring: Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale, Bill Nighy, John Cho and Bryan Cranston
  • Written by: Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback
  • Directed by: Len Wiseman
  • Studio: Sony Pictures
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Run Time: 118 minutes
  • Series:

Mania Review: Total Recall

Can they forget it for us wholesale?

By Rob Vaux     August 03, 2012

There’s an unintentional joke at the very beginning of the new version of Total Recall: one of the production companies is titled “Original Film,” and their marquee rolls past us right after Columbia. Considering the film’s status as a remake – and a pretty crummy one at that – the irony is hard to ignore. Total Recall seems unaware of its status: adopting a crushingly earnest tone while routinely rehashing the key moments and plot points from the over-the-top Paul Verhoeven original. It feels like a sad carbon copy, devoid of any flair and existing mainly to get people to see the first one again.

The trouble begins almost immediately, with a lengthy bit of exposition setting up this new world. After chemical warfare renders much of the planet uninhabitable, humanity divides into two large nation-states. The United Federation of Britain gets all the cool toys, hot jobs and sexy technology, while The Colony (located in Australia) labors for long hours in sweaty pits to support their decadent overlords. You may immediately spot a small logistical problem with this, since that Melbourne-to-London commute is a bit of a bear. A high-speed train called The Fall connects them through the Earth’s molten core, zipping lowly wage slaves to their appointed stations for the day, then cruising them home to their filthy squalor until the morn.

Total Recall spends an inordinate amount of time setting all this up before spackling the basic plot from the Verhoeven version on top of it. Right away this causes some serious problems. For instance, the rebels now seek freedom and equality for The Colony rather than Mars… and can, with a few tiny bags of explosives, make that happen simply by collapsing The Fall. Their oppressors would then have to travel through thousands of miles of toxic sludge to continue beating on them. Naturally, no one thinks of this because then there would be no movie. Total Recall blithely ignores a staggering number of similar questions while frantically gesturing towards the overwrought production design in an effort to distract us.

The plot arrives almost as an afterthought, laid out with glum efficiency between a series of stunningly dull gunfights. Unremarkable factory worker Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) signs up for a supercool memory implant at the Rekall company, only to learn that he’s a top rebel spy imbued with hidden knowledge. His former wife (Kate Beckinsale) – actually a counteragent trained to monitor him – aims to cut his brain out before he can use the information, while his former lover (Jessica Biel) shows up to give him a hand.

Some vital part of the equation never comes online. Verhoeven treated it all as a ridiculous lark: taking every element to 11 while playing high-minded head games that were never quite as smart as they thought they were. We see none of that here. Instead, we get a glum, dour and painfully self-important future devoid of introspection or imagination. It drains every retasked scene of interest or energy — even the three-breasted hooker arrives with the tedium of a postal inspector — and the cast quickly follows suit. Only Beckinsale appears to be enjoying herself, relishing every minute of her rare bad-girl turn; everyone else might as well be sleepwalking.

The PG-13 rating only compounds the dullness. Besides his ex, Quaid mostly faces down sentry robots during his various gun battles, elevator chases and back-alley brawls. That allows him to mangle his mechanical foes without invoking the dreaded "R," but it also robs the fights of their energy. It becomes a video game played by someone else, all sound and noise with no proper context or accompanying excitement.

It didn’t have to be this way. Director Len Wiseman never made the action A-list, but he does command a strong sense of three-dimensional space. His best films make exquisite use of the vertical plane, lending them a unique visual signature that other directors struggle to match. Here, unfortunately, it all gets out of hand. The endless battery of elevator switches, Rubik's-Cube buildings and flying cars that drop precipitously towards the earth lose their novelty value very quickly, while competing for our attention with the jumbled skylines that transform every scene into a visual assault. Without any invention or flair, the story can't find its footing… even if it didn't ignore the subtler questions of identity and existentialism that the earlier version embraced with such glee.

With such a vacuum yawning before us, the film’s painful issues grow more and more insistent. Why does the villain (Bryan Cranston) stick his neck out for one instant? How do they keep all that poison air from seeping into civilization? It this actually dumber than a freaking Schwarzenegger movie? We circle around the most obvious and important question; namely, why the hell should we care? Total Recall, unfortunately, never provides an answer… just more reheated leftovers in a cinematic landscape stuffed to the gills with them.   


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akiraakobus 8/3/2012 12:57:53 AM

Pfffft, a D from this guy bascially means the film is probably a C or B-.  I plan on seeing this one tommorrow night, I think it looks pretty good, the Verhoeven version is fun as well but no more than a B movie. 

I love how critics are bashing this film for the chase scenes, action, special effects, etc.  Funny thats about all the original is remembered for that and Arnolds over the top performance.  I also love the fact that people complain about the lack of humor in the new version, ummm yeah I don't expect them to be cracking jokes or cheesey one liners to much in a movie that looks like this, it looks like a serious Sci-Fi movie so I expect the humor to be kept to a minimum.

Detractors also seem to whine about the lack of an R rating, thats a stupid complaint as the one thing that would bring to the movie would be over the top gore more than likely and nudity which really serves no purpose in a movie like this.  (Verhoeven however used over the top gore to an goofy degree in his movies and through nudity around so much you could assume he was a pretty big pervert in real life).

In the end I will see this movie and probably enjoy it, bump the critics.


ActionMovieGod 8/3/2012 1:32:48 AM

Nope he is being kind that was one of the worst action movies ive EVER seen! They should call it Total Refund.God i wish Hollywood would stop pissing on Arnolds legacy...I would give this a F yes i said a F Rob is being kind.

doublec 8/3/2012 2:05:50 AM

 Ya know, this sounds exactly like what I thought of last year's remake of Fright Night, which came out at about the same time and place in the summer season. A tired, insipid rehash of a vastly superior original, yet everyone here thought THAT film was oh so cool. Interesting.

Munkey421e 8/3/2012 3:56:43 AM

what about the lask of dedication to the source material or pissing on the legacy of one of Science Fictions most underappreciated authors, Phillip K. Dick? no one mentions that? its all about frackin Arnold. pffffffft.

Munkey421e 8/3/2012 3:57:52 AM

"In We Can Remember it for You Wholesale, Quail goes to have the memory of Mars implanted, only for the men carrying out the procedure to find that he actually has been to Mars, and this memory has been buried deep by the government. The men at Rekal, Incorporated send Quail home without grafting the fake memory and when he comes around, he can remember a trip to Mars as an undercover agent but it is hazy and vague, and he believes something went wrong with the procedure. A policeman shows up at his apartment, who tells Quail a telepathic transmitter is wired within his skull, which tells them all of his thoughts. He knows too much about his past as an agent and he must be killed. As a final measure, Quail desperately suggests they imprint a false-memory as they did previously, and implant another memory, something which would be enough to satisfy his craving for Mars, which seeped through before. A psychiatrist discovers an interesting fantasy buried deep in his mind, one different to wanting to be an undercover agent. One in which he stops an invasion of small alien creatures, by showing them kindness and mercy, and they make a covenant with him not to invade Earth while he is alive. However, when they try to implant this memory, it turns out this one also happened for real… and that is how the short story ends.

Both the short story and the film are appealing in their own ways, although very different from each other. All the events that take place after Quaid leaves Rekall in Total Recall are not Philip K. Dick’s ideas, but they do follow similar themes and there are some great sci-fi moments, so this makes for an interesting comparison.


DarthBob 8/3/2012 4:34:37 AM

"a D from this guy bascially means the film is probably a C or B-."  Right, because it is just ripping it up over on RT at 30%.  Stop casting Colin Farrell as a lead as he's not a very good actor.  The trailers are boring so you know the rest of the flick is a snooze fest.

spiderhero 8/3/2012 4:42:56 AM

I was going to see this, but now I'll pass.

MrEt 8/3/2012 5:21:30 AM

I hav etickets to this and the RT score is in the trash, wondering if I should see another flick.....

wish 8/3/2012 5:43:58 AM

Colin Farrell is a fine actor, he does what his directors tell him.  Len Wiseman is a fine director, but he needs to be a little better at choosing his projects.  His movies are either February or August releases with Live Free or Die Hard being the one exception so far, and with reviews like this, which are fairly standard for this movie as far as I've read, he's not likely to elevate his status. 

I along with many of the fans this type of movie was made for would agree that this didn't need a remake, but here it is so now we can either choose to see it or not, personally I was interested before the reviews, now I'm a little hesitant, it just so happens that as I age, I find myself wanting to waste less and less time on shitty movies, and I actually find myself agreeing with guys like Rob more and more, when you really focus on the points they make they happen to right more often than not.

Between the soft rating and the lack of a Maritian setting, I really don't have many reasons to want to see this.


xJokersxWildx 8/3/2012 5:56:45 AM

I knew it would suck when there was no .. GET YOUR Azz to Mars lol

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