Friday, December 21, 2012

Movie Review - Total Recall

I tend to get Running Man and Total Recall confused. Both are dystopic-future sci-fi flicks with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and both have wacky cool tech like exploding neck collars or Martian terraformers. I don't have any trouble remembering which movie has the hooker with three boobs, though.

The new Total Recall doesn't help any. Aside from a few overlapping details (for instance, the triple-nipple streetwalker is in the new one, too), the old Arnold movie and the new Colin Farrell version are really not very similar at all. The names are largely similar - friend Harry, wife Lori, old flame Melina, bad guy Cohaagan - and the plots bear a passing resemblance to each other. Overall, however, these are not the same movie.

For one thing, Colin Farrell is a much better actor than Arnold Schwarzenegger. I'm a big fan of the miniature Austrian giant, but when it comes to acting chops, let's face it, he's really not very good. Colin Farrell, by comparison, is actually believable as something other than an immigrant who gets a lot of exercise.

Also, the women in the new one are hotter. The old one featured Sharon Stone and some dame who vanished from my memory as soon as the credits rolled, but the new one has Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel, who are two of the three sexiest women in movies today (the third being Megan Fox). I could watch Kate Beckinsale pressure-clean a dog kennel and it would be hot. Running around in her drawers and doing wild acrobat stunts just makes her that much better. Add in Jessica Biel as a gun-toting resistance fighter, and this is a movie designed for men who want to see killer dames doing violence and looking tasty.

The visuals in the new Total Recall are staggering, too. There's a car chase on elevated freeways where the cars are magnetized to stay hovering in the air on the bottom side of the road. There are ridiculously cool high-tech disguises. There's an elevator that goes from Australia to Britain, and it drops into zero-G as it races past the planet's core. Holographs and super-guns and robot assassins make the new Total Recall a science-fiction nerdgasm. Also, club music in the future is just dubstep.

What's missing, however, is the thought-provoking element that made Philip K Dick one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time (and it's missing from both movies). Sure, there are fantastic gun battles and daring rooftop chases, but the depth of Dick's genius goes unrealized. Compared to Bladerunner, which actually did a remarkable job of conveying the ideas Philip K Dick brought to his fiction, both Total Recall movies are almost mindless.

This part is actually kind of a shame. Philip K Dick embodied the best parts of science fiction, by using fantastic situations to get us thinking. His fiction presented futuristic ideas that related to us now. Moral gray areas were his specialty, and while his stories had villains and heroes, it wasn't always easy to tell which guy was the good guy and which was the bad guy.

Also missing is the crisp writing that makes us fall in love with stuff like Firefly and Star Wars. The characters in Total Recall are not so much three-dimensional people as they are vehicles that carry us from one action scene to the next. There's no cocky smuggler peeling off one-liners, no sharp-tongued woman who irritates the hero as he falls in love with her. The dialog carries the plot, but not much more. I had a great time watching Total Recall, but it's not destined to become a classic because the characters don't come alive. Even with a cast full of people I love to watch, the real stars of Total Recall are the explosions.

The new Total Recall is a cut-and-dried action flick with some good, old-fashioned violence and thrilling movie magic. The bad guys are very bad, the good guys are heroic, and the gunfights are splashy and exciting. I'm totally fine with that, because I love to see stuff explode, but if you were hoping for depth, you're going to be disappointed.

On the other hand, if you want to see gorgeous women, awesome future-tech and bad-ass action sequences, Total Recall is right on the money. It's a ridiculously fun movie, and a great way to just turn off your brain and enjoy a Saturday evening.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for another great review. Two minor points I'd like to add:

The old Total Recall did actually have a lot of the ideas of the original short story, translated (dumbed down) for the big screen: who are you, who do you want to be, what is real? Acting, well, you are right as usual.
Of course writing for television is more crisp because as a writer you don't have 20 people messing with your stuff to make sure everyone stays on board and no one gets offended. When was the last time a big budget Hollywood A production aimed at kids had crisp writing? Never?
I'd love this to be different, but I think this movie is intended to appeal to the crowd that liked Transformers, not people who read books.

Pete said...

I think the best PkD movie, as far as "closest to the text" has to be A Scanner Darkly. That said, that movie also is a great lesson for filmmakers: Don't tread too closely to the original text, it makes for bad film.

I'll have to rent it tonight, Matt. I heard so much bad press on it that I had passed over it.