Thursday, 13 September 2012

REVIEW: Total Recall

When it was announced that the Paul Verhoeven sci-fi classic Total Recall was being remade, a ripple of anger bled across the blogosphere. What made it grow even worse was the fact that Len Wiseman, the man behind the awful Underworld series was at the helm, with his wife Kate Beckinsale up front and centre. The cast that followed included Colin Farrell taking hero duties as Douglas Quaid, very different casting from Arnold's beefed spy (with Beckinsale replacing Sharon Stone as his wife), Jessica Biel as Melina, a foxy Resistance fighter and the object of Quaid's dreams, Bryan Cranston as head honcho baddie Cohaagen, and Bill Nighy as Matthias Lair, leader of the resistance. A very mixed bag, and not filling the nervous fans with much confidence. 

As was expected, Total Recall (2012) isn't as good as the original. What made Verhoeven's original so enjoyable was it's camp charm and outrageous caricatures, whereas Wiseman has dropped these qualities for a more serious and 'believable' approach - they don't even go to Mars in this one.  Instead, Earth has been divided into two settlements, The United Federation of Britain (UFB - the UK and Western Europe) and The Colony (Australia), of which the latter is representative of Mars and its blue-collar workforce. Like the original, baddie Cohaagen is looking to take over The Colony and control Earth's output, only this time he has a synthetic robot army to do the deed and assist with his plans for World domination. In the middle of this power struggle, factory worker Douglas Quaid is having violent dreams about fighting with the Resistance assisted by a mysterious woman. Eager to experience these secret agent fantasies more in depth, he visits Rekall, a shady outfit where people can have fake memories implanted. From here Quaid's story is the same as the original, and he ends up embroiled in a cat-and-mouse chase with his hot wife - an agent for Cohaagen - and fighting to stop the Colony falling into the robot army apocalypse. 

The plot is good enough, and although keeping the story to the confines of Earth is more believable, it's not in keeping with the original story, so not a good decision when push comes to shove (I would always rather they stuck to the source material if remaking a classic film). One of the best additions to the new film however, is the Fall, a subterranean lift which carries workers from the UFB to The Colony and back again via the Earth's core. In a spectacular set piece we see Quaid fighting some robots on the Fall as the gravity shift takes place at the Earth's centre, and it's these moments when Wiseman shines. The special effects are awesome, and date the original a hundred years, as we see some high-octane chase sequences across a suspended city with some chic Minority-Report-esque road networks. 

Perhaps the biggest disappointment from Total Recall is the gross underuse of it's best actors - namely Bryan Cranston. The man now famous from his star-turn in Breaking Bad, not to mention his great performance in Drive, has barely any meat in which to sink his chops. Cohaagen was supposedly a tough field agent and his equal-matched fights with Colin Farrell are laughable in places - here is a guy who just decked a load of robot warriors taking a beating from a fop-haired craggy Bryan Cranston. Don't think so. It would have been far wiser to have given Cranston better lines with which to dally, as his tough physicality just isn't believable. To that effect, it came as a what-the-fu- moment seeing Bill Nighy as leader of the Resistance. An underground army of hard-nuts who are only accessible through a series of checkpoints. He looked ridiculous. Wearing a trench coat and with wispy long slicked back hair Matthias looked more like a teaching assistant at Hogwarts than the leader of a rebel group. If they had him bespectacled with short iron hair and faded prison tattoos, speaking with a slow but aggressive manner then Nighy could have been acceptable, but his casting was awful otherwise. He can't have been so pleased himself with the final edit - his screen time is laughable. Unlike the two older characters, the three leads were far better casting, with Farrell offering a better (if less enjoyable) Douglas Quaid than Arnold. Kate Beckinsale obviously enjoyed herself with some kick-ass fight scenes and a series of great chase sequences, but I couldn't shake that she always seemed to be stepping out of a shampoo advert - her long glossy feathers get flicked every which way but loose. 

Perhaps Wiseman's biggest failure was in sacrificing substance for style. Although it is certainly a very aesthetically-pleasing film - true eye-candy a la Avatar and Prometheus - the tension is lacking (the great scene in the original where Arnold's lady costume malfunctions at security is demoted to a small tip of the hat or homage to the original - no heartfelt filmmaking here).  In all Wiseman hasn't done a terrible job, and he certainly didn't massacre the original or anything to that effect, but his film did lack the uncertainty evoked through the 1990 classic, as we rarely find ourselves asking the question: Is this real or is this Rekall? 

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