Monday, September 3, 2012

“Total Recall” – What do you remember?

A few weeks ago, I created a list of rules guiding when it’s okay to remake a movie (in my The Amazing Spider-Man review). There’s no doubt that The Amazing Spider-Man was much too soon, among other reasons, but what about a movie like Total Recall? Most people remember it as little better than a B-movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger, lots of violence, and a three-breasted woman. What they might not remember is the movie finished 1990 as that year’s seventh highest grossing film ($261 million on a $60 million budget), won an Oscar for best visual effects, and received a much more positive response from critics than anyone would guess. Looking back at my rules for remaking a movie, it’s old enough (barely), I’m not sure I would call it wildly successful, there aren’t any flavor-of-the-moment actors, the movie was definitely average, and the Oscar it won has a caveat attached calling it a “special achievement award,” which makes me wonder at its validity. This leaves one rule – does this year’s remake deviate enough from the original to be worth remaking? In a word, no, but it is a solid movie and doesn’t include a mutant midget hooker gunning people down (do you remember that part?).

To promote the film, Jessica Biel appeared on The Daily Show and stated that the film stays more true to the book than the original (the book being a short story called We Can Remember it for you Wholesale by Philip K. Dick). Having read the story myself, this leads me to believe that Biel either can’t read or doesn’t read, making me wonder how she actually learns her lines. Sure, it shares the premise, but that’s really about it. In the story, Douglas Quail (they changed it to Quaid in the film for reasons beyond comprehension) dreams about going to Mars and goes to Rekal to have memories of a trip to Mars implanted in his brain in lieu of actually going there. During the procedure, they discover that he actually HAD been to Mars AND was a secret agent. When government guys show up to kill Quail, he convinces them to try erasing his memory again and implanting a new memory of something else. The new memory is of an alien race coming to Earth, meeting Quail, and promising not to invade the planet as long as Quail remains alive. The Rekal folks discover that this, too, has happened to Quail. We can only guess as to why this isn’t the plot of the new film because it’s much more interesting than what the films deliver. Of course, we already know to expect this from Hollywood.

I think what Biel meant to say was that the remake stays true to the original film. Nearly everything in the movie is the same, down to the order in which events occur. Quaid (Colin Farrell) dreams about a girl, Melina (Biel), and a resistance. Quaid goes to Rekall (an extra “L” added for the movie) to have memories implanted because he’s bored with life, only for Rekall to discover he’s actually lived the memories they are going to implant. His wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale), is only pretending to be his wife and tries to kill him when he comes home. Bullets fly, car chases ensue, Quaid learns the truth about his past and who he really is, more bullets fly, he meets Melina, he meets the leader of the resistance, people die, and the bad guy, Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), attempts to quell the rebellion only to be thwarted by Quaid. If it weren’t for them using different actors, you might not be able to tell the difference from the original.

Frankly, the only real difference is they replaced Mars with Australia (referred to as the Colony) and changed the reason for the rebellion from Cohaagen controlling the air on Mars to Cohaagen wanting to invade the Colony. Considering the remake featured an Earth where most of the planet is uninhabitable due to chemical warfare, you’d think they would have stuck with bad air in the colony as the motivation. This pending invasion makes no sense considering the Colony is linked with the only other piece of inhabited land, the United Kingdom, by a super fast train tunnel through the center of the Earth and Cohaagen is the chancellor of both. They tell us he intends to clear the colony of people and infrastructure in order to rebuild it. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought, “bwaaaaa??”

Aside from the nonsensical bad-guy plot, the movie is actually pretty well done. Beckinsale and Biel are upgrades from Sharon Stone and Rachel Ticotin, respectively, and the special effects are much better this time around. As much as I expected to dislike this film, I found myself enjoying what is a fairly competent sci-fi flick. They even manage to slip in some winks at the original, including the three-breasted prostitute. I’m sure you remember her.

Rating: Ask for three dollars back. And the answer to the question of whether the remake was justified? Meh.

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