Cool visuals like this are utterly wasted in this pile.
The Total Recall remake, the most unnecessary and why-even-fucking-bother remake I’ve yet seen, is the kind of turd that makes me wish Patton Oswalt would come out of review retirement and write a Neil Cumpston for it. That’s the only way the $11.50 I spent on this would in any way feel like it was worth it. Total Recall 2012 adds absolutely nothing to our culture and I doubt it’ll even offer up some entertaining memes or mockery, that’s how bad it is is.Sometimes an awful movie is fun to review (see Cowboys and Aliens and Transformers 3). Sometimes they are obligatory because it must be said that some awful shit is awful (see Conan the Barbarian 2011). Unfortunately for you and me, Total Recall is probably in the latter category.
And it’s not that I’m upset because it’s a bad remake or it ruins the original or anything like that. No matter how good this was, there was no way it could touch Verhoeven’s 1990 movie. In fact, I was all right with the idea of them remaking this one because there is plenty of room to do an interesting “retake” on the material. The ’90 version wasn’t very close to Philip K. Dick’s story so why not, right? But of course, the guys who made this lied, just like the Conan 2011 guys, when they said they were going to skew closer to that story in order to do a “fresh take”. Instead, they cleave lazily to the 1990 movie with jokes, dialogue, and the basic set-up while being just plain lazy in general with everything else.
The seemingly obligatory “three tits” scene is just cringey.
In fact, the only place where Len Wiseman (Underworld) tried to get creative was in the world-building and visuals. There’s some interesting background going on in this weird future world. Unfortunately, it’s all wasted because it’s just that: background. You get to see a few Blade Runner style bits in The Colony and some cool robots, but there’s nothing in that’s used to get anywhere with the plot or characters.
I presumed that, with these guys involved, this was going to be a stinker. Wiseman hasn’t gotten any better than Underworld and Kurt Wimmer (co-writer, not directing thank fuck) shows the same failure to rise above concept and setting that he showed in Ultraviolet. I’ll always be grateful to him for Equilibrium but someone has got to teach the fucker to write. More to the point, there are fucking seven writing credits on this movie. Seven. That is like a joke. I’m always saying that the more writers on your big action blockbuster, the worse it’s going to be. Fortunately for the dim among the audience, all these writers didn’t turn Total Recall into an incomprehensible mess. It’s totally comprehensible, but so stripped down that there’s nary a real character in the film. Big actors like Bryan Cranston and Bill Nighy are here, but they don’t do anything. The c0stars Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale are just two sides of the same anonymous ass-kicking babe cliche that is so streamlined in this thing that Biel’s character, who we know is Mileena if we’ve seen the Verhoeven movie, is only named late in the movie and then only in passing.
I guess you can say that while a total trainwreck, Total Recall is at least an efficient one.
The robots are cool looking and reminded me of Binary Domain but they are just canon fodder for the effects budget.
If the plot of the first Total Recall was an explosion, the remake is a sparkler held in the hand of a very earnest Hollywood exec who mistakenly believed that anyone was going to remember or care about anything that happens in this movie. It’s preposterous from the set-up, but that in itself is not so bad. You could have a premise as preposterous as this movie’s and still make it work if you lace it with characters that develop in interesting ways or have interesting conflicts, if you add some social commentary or thematic resonance to the preposterous setting, and/or if you make an engaging plot that uses the setting’s unique features to drive things forward. Since Total Recall 2012 has none of those qualities, it is almost completely inert. Everything is rushed and after the first 30 minutes, all the best action is already done with so there’s just more running, shooting pistols, and an insane amount of elevator-related set-pieces.
In the future of this movie, rather than planetary colonization, we have a ruined world where the only two safe havens are the British isles and fucking Australia. Located on opposite sides of the globe, they are connected by a big fucking elevator that runs through the Earth’s core (I’m not joking) and reverses gravity along the way so down becomes up and so on. It takes 17 minutes to take this ride.
Now, where things get honestly confusing (but in a stupid way) is why this device represents oppression, why it must be destroyed, and why it exists at all. You kind of have to just go with it but the movie, which tries to be about income disparity I guess, just glosses over how Cohaagen (Cranston) and his whole oppressive regime works and why it is exploitative. I guess they have the Colony (Australia) people like Quaid working long hours building robots, which begs the question of why aren’t robots making robots like they do in 2012? But there’s just not enough oppression shown to justify a rebellion, to make us care about the plights of anyone at all, etc. We briefly get to see Mathias’s operation (played by Nighy, he takes over for cool-ass mutant Kuato) but not long enough to be at all interested in it or how it works. Hauser/Quaid’s role in the resistance is whatever, they totally fumble any sense that he’s key to anything. Cohaagen doesn’t need him for his evil plan, Mathias doesn’t need him to stop it, so he’s just sort of caught in the middle and inert (like the movie) except to run and shoot and shit I just fell asleep.
The point is, as always, that stuff has to feel like it matters or it just doesn’t work. If you can’t care about these pretty people one way or another, or the craggy old men who run around the sidelines, then there isn’t anything to get you through this movie aside from morbid curiosity. I mean, someone really hates their (ex-)wives and wrote Lorie (Kate Beckinsale) to reflect that. But me? I just don’t care and she is just this horrible evilwifebot villain that is no more compelling than the policebots that are all over the movie.
The movie tells you that you should care about what these guys want. But do you honestly?
One of the things, if you’ll allow me, that separates this shit from the earlier movie is the invested performances. Even Arnie was in top form for Total Recall 1990. Examples: instead of basically saving him for the last bit of the movie, we see Cohaagen all throughout and get to hear the impressively scenery-chewing words of Ronny Cox in the role. Cranston can be a heavy if he wants to be and he’s a great actor, but what’s he even doing in this movie? They don’t use him for anything, so the point eludes me. Same with Nighy, who I think gets one line of dialogue in spite of the fact that he is one of those guys who can do so much with so little. John fucking Cho is more interesting, and better used, than either of these guys. It’s perplexing.
Everything in Total Recall feels like a cypher. The characters are cyphers, the villains are cyphers of cyphers (the robots being some kind of uber meta-meta-cypher I can only recognize on percoset), and the plot is just a cardboard coat-hanger that can’t even hold up this no-clothes movie. This could all have been (mis)used in the interest of creating the same kind of “is it real? is it not?” twist as is present in Verhoeven’s film but this does not happen. No, Quaid’s journey is all too real and so it becomes just a wannabe futuristic Bourne movie, again without any of the qualities that make those movies interesting or special.
I am the car and Colin Farrel is this movie. He asks himself “why” and I just say vrrroooommmm.
Total Recall is by and large the worst of the too-big-to-fail movies of 2012. It is worse even than Battleship or John Carter which were interesting fuck-ups. The closest comparison to this is Conan the Barbarian last year. It’s interesting only because that, too, was a remake of a classic Arnie movie. Next they’ll probably do Commando and I’m just going to quit paying to see this shit.