Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Movie Review: Total Recall

Genre: science fiction
Director: Len Wiseman
Rating: ** (2 out of 5)

To satisfy America’s craving for last-century nostalgia, Columbia Pictures decides to remake Total Recall, the iconic 1990 science fiction film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Colin Farrell beats out several Hollywood heavy weights, including Tom Hardy (Inception, Batman), Michael Fassbender (X-Men, Shame) and the 62-year-old Schwarzenegger himself, for the lead role of Douglas Quaid.

Total Recall by Len Wiseman

Conscious of the inevitable comparison audiences will make between the two versions, Director Len Wiseman pays homage to the original film by dropping subtle references here and there: you may recognize the three-breasted prostitute and the triple-chinned woman going through airport security. But instead of having most of the action unfold on Mars, Wiseman creates a new world order on Earth where the rich and the powerful live in the “Federation” on the former British Isles, while the working poor languish in the “Colony” on the other side of the planet. The Colony is an urban slum with crisscrossing canals that resemble the floating markets in Bangkok. Twice a day, commuters ride “The Fall,” a massive elevator that shuttles between the hemispheres through the center of the Earth. Like many mass transit systems in today’s world, The Fall is a natural target for terrorist attacks by resistance forces.

The remake begs two questions: will the do-over by a rookie director do justice to the 90s classic? And can a uni-browed, foul-mouthed aging bad boy carry a Hollywood blockbuster?  The answers are “no” and “no.”

The Colony or Chao Praya River in Bangkok?

Perhaps because Wiseman started his career as an art department assistant for movies like Godzilla and Men in Black, he puts far too much stock in constructing a detailed futuristic world than he does storytelling. So while Total Recall is visually stunning, it gets old after a few scenes. Douglas Quaid, the amnesiac double-crossing spy – a 22nd Century Jason Bourne of sorts – is constantly on the run, sliding down a tin roof in one scene and jumping off a speeding train in another. The movie is a patchwork of back-to-back chase sequences that are tedious, tiring and at times hard to follow. All that mindless action culminates in a ridiculous hand-to-hand combat between Quaid and Cohaagen, the Federation’s head of state. The notion is as silly as a Taliban rebel sparring George W. Bush on the White House lawn. After killing Cohaagen, Quaid must thwart a military attack on the Colony by a drone army straight out of I, Robot. So what does the hero do? He detonates a small bomb at The Fall that conveniently destroys the entire robotic force.

Don't shoot the director's wife

Compared to his bodybuilder predecessor, Colin Farrell seems small, both in stature and in stage presence. His ex-boy band pop-star look, a cross between a young Mel Gibson and Robbie Williams, doesn't help matters. Before turning into a world-saving hero, Douglas Quaid is a frustrated factory worker who yearns for more in life. He is Mr. Anderson in The Matrix and Ariel in The Little Mermaid. Whatever inner struggles he is trying to convey, Farrell fails to tug at my heartstrings. I find it hard to care about his character and what happens to him.

Equally unimpressive is the role of Lori, the female villain played by British actress Kate Beckinsale. She comes off as bitchy when she should have been evil, more a desperate housewife than a femme fatale. She is a far cry from Sharon Stone’s delightfully twisted performance in the 1990 original. So why is Beckinsale cast in the remake? Well silly, she is the director’s wife!

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