Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Total Recall, a review

The difficulty in reviewing a remake involve feelings of guilt, in that I feel inadequate since I haven't seen the original Total Recall. Thus, I am forced (not really) to view the film on it's own terms.

Well, shouldn't be too difficult.

Doug Quaid is unhappy with his life, living in a futuristic ghetto on the other edge of the world, unable to move up in the world. When he decides to go out and visit a mysterious corporation to enjoy some "active dreaming" he is implanted with memories and has to go on the run from the global government.

TECHNICAL

Based on the trailer, the strength of the film would be in this particular department. There are indeed some noteworthy technical aspects, and one of them is that the film avoids the shaky-cam effect, and ignores rapid-fire editing. This is actually a plus, and the action sequences (though not particularly outstanding) are coherent and easy to follow.

However, the overall design of the film reflects it's source in Blade Runner, Minority Report, and I, Robot. The evil synthetic robots look incredibly similar to I, Robot and even move like them. The floating cars and overall way they move feels pulled from Minority Report and the design of the city, like floating lego blocks built upon each other like Jerusalem, reflect Blade Runner. Including the invasive and blinding lens flare of Star Trek and you have yourself several technically sound flicks all wrapped up in one.

The action scenes are alternatively well done, but never rise to the level of memorable. Right now, I'm struggling to remember anything remotely cool besides some of the weapon design and a scene where Colin Farrell cuts a phone out of his hand.

This is not to suggest that the film doesn't look good, because it certainly does. The floating cities are well-rendered and the cinematography is general solid. But, the film feels slap-dash and remind me of better films.

NARRATIVE

This is where the film falters, but I offer grace because I didn't come to see a narratively strong film. The dialogue is often clunky and on the nose, adopting the principle of "stating the obvious" instead of letting actions speak for themselves. Colin Farrell is a great choice, avoiding the muscular hero and instead opting for more the Jason Bourne form of action hero: hidden lethality and enough everyman swagger.

The acting is uniformly adequate if bland. The villain is the real disappointment. After watching Breaking Bad, Brian Cranston needs to be in more films with bigger roles. He is criminally underused here, and his effect is unimpressive.

In fact, something interesting struck me as I was walking out of the theater. I realized that The Island is a far superior film, and Total Recall seems to follow the same pattern. Amnesia of sorts, chased by shadowy government agents, car chases, return to enemy stronghold, fight the underdeveloped villain. Add in beautiful women and a futuristic synthesis and you have The Island.

THEMES

Memory and the value we place on it is inherently a fascinating concept. Sadly it really isn't pursued in this film, and in fact, much of it really isn't done so either. The meaning of life and how it relates to us struck me as quite compelling, and I wished the film had continued along that route. There are indeed instances of it, as mentions about the virtue ethics of the past are commented on, and who they affect our future.

But, robots are cooler.

CONCLUSION

Total Recall is indeed a fun film. I do not deny that. I did not go in expecting anything particularly involving, though I did anticipate that Len Wiseman would massage my eyes for two hours, and he barely pulled it off. The acting doesn't distract, the editing is crisp and the environment, though similar to other films, does indeed work. Sadly, poor writing and lackluster character development ruin an otherwise potentially fun film.

I did enjoy it more than The Dark Knight Rises.

2.5 out of 5 stars

--Nick

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