Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Review: Total Recall

Total Recall
Dir. Len Wiseman
Country: USA / Canada
Aus Rating: M15+
Running Time: 118mins

Total Recall is a Len Wiseman film. That really should be enough to turn any sane cinemagoer off of this remake/reboot/re-adaptation, and from the sounds of things its American release has been met with a resounding flop. Good. Nobody should be giving this man so much money to make what amounts to little more than a Bourne/The Dark Knight inspired take on the mind-bending story of Philip K Dick and the original film by Paul Verhoeven. I have never read the short story that inspired it, but Verhoeven’s film isn’t exactly beyond reproach. Still, it is a hell of a lot better than this dull, rote, and downright flabby sci-fi action bore. Don’t give Len Wiseman the keys to the kingdom, all he’ll do is break in and move your stuff around with no purpose.

Total Recall is the end product of lazy filmmakers working together. So much of what is wrong with this film could have easily been fixed if its director and screenwriters, Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback, had just played it a bit smarter. The film opens with one of those soul-crushing bombardments of expositional text that never leads to anything good, and only descends from there. The nitpicker in me wants to ask why these characters let go of their possessions in the zero gravity zone when they’ve been taking that trip for years? Why is the climactic action sequence so reminiscent of Titanic? Why are there no Australian accents in the Australian-set scenes, yet British and American accents appear to have survived? Why go to all the effort of creating this expansive world if you’re not even going to let the editor breath and let us see it before turning around and shifting the action to ugly chasms and sterile portals? We won’t even go into the logic of Bryan Cranston’s Cohaagen sending all of his trips, plus himself, plus his henchmen, all on the same craft. That’s just dumb.

There’s little rhyme or reason to any of what happens here, as its mortals recite inane dialogue in breathy, exhausted, monosyllabic bites. Meanwhile many of the changes to the original film (“Original Film” also the LOL-worthy name for the production company that made it) lack purpose. The screenplay pinches many bits from the 1990 production, but is mostly played with dead-eyed seriousness and without any of the comedic glee found in Verhoeven’s movies. Then there are moments like the initial “rekall” and the security scanner scene that fall flat. The only moment Total Recall feels truly alive is a genuinely well-played chase sequence across the rooftops of an Australian slum that recalls (har dee har har) Blade Runner, this film’s most obvious inspiration. Still, when much of the drama is centred on Colin Farrell’s Douglas Quaid and his apparent terrible life and yet he appears to live in an apartment larger than mine with a view of some fabulous art directed metropolis it’s kind of hard to care.

Farrell is certainly trying hard, unlike his track pants (the opening scene is certainly directing one’s gaze far south of Farrell’s furrowed brow), but is held back by a director who is so busy stealing other films’ styles that he never truly carves his own. The casting of permanently open mouthed blank slate Jessica Biel – still never better than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – and the one woman hair care commercial, Kate Beckinsale, certainly doesn’t help matters. “I give good wife”, says the latter without a hint of a wink. Yawn.

It’s always sad to see a film – especially one with as gargantuan of a budget as this one – go off the rails, but they have nobody to blame but themselves. Much like John Carter, Total Recall’s filmmakers just think audiences will flock for the pretty actors and the big visual effects. Sadly, Wiseman is just too bland of a director to cast actors from outside the box or to do anything truly memorable with the premise. This is a glum state of affairs. C

No comments: