Monday, August 6, 2012


There are few legitimate reasons, in my mind, to remake a film.  We live in a world that is teeming with screenplays that have never seen the light of day or just can’t garner any attention, just sit down in any Los Angeles cafe.  Ideas are as numerous as there are people and even then that figure is conservative by a long shot.  Yet remakes have always been and always will be a part of Hollywood.

This should come to be of no surprise or offense to anyone who loves film or any kind of artistic medium.  Different interpretations of the great works of theater, painting, sculpture, photography, and even writing continue to be reworked or given a modern adaptation.  In theater, a more transient art than film, they believe that a good story is worth retelling; in fact the entire idea is based on this concept.
Despite all of this, I still can't help but cringe every time that I hear about another remake that I've immediately deemed unnecessary.  My main problem with this trend is that many of the films that are being remade still hold up today and don’t stand to benefit from a modern retelling.  If I were to remake a film I'd want it to be one that had a great idea that was never fully delivered on.  So many films have intriguing concepts at their heart that were mismanaged on the way to the Cineplex.  So why not go back to what had audiences so intrigued in the first place and build from there?  A guy can dream can’t he?

To me, the original Total Recall, a film that traded in such dreams, is a film that fit my requirements for a remake.  While beloved by many and certainly quite a bit of campy fun, I never felt like it ever fully utilized its reality-shifting premise.  Instead, the film capitalized on its creative effects, ideas, humor, and visceral action to great success.  With Inception blowing open the door to the world of dreams and altered realities, the announcement of a new Total Recall seemed like a great idea.

Len Wiseman's (Underworld, Live Free or Die Hard) new Total Recall operates in a dreamlike fashion on its surface; it operates one moment at a time with a sense of propulsion and constant invention pushing it forward.  Behind every wall lies the potential for some new danger or true salvation, characters appear and disappear on a whim to serve whatever means the mind can invent for them, and the whole thing is over before you can truly stop to think about it.

All of this might stand to serve Wiseman's Total Recall except that the film is completely uninterested in exploring the nature of dreams and memories.  Any opportunity that the film has to explore these themes and questions is met with the barrel of a gun.  It pushes aside these arguments as if to say that even considering the notion of philosophizing is a complete and utter waste of time.  Gone is any of the ambiguity that made the first Total Recall an intellectually interesting film, if only slightly.

Instead, Wiseman's Total Recall is a non-stop action film set against a generic Phillip K. Dickian setting that lifts from the best films in the genre in the most obvious of ways.  That's not to say that the film is completely terrible or a bore.  It moves at a fast enough pace to sustain a solid momentum, as if to remind you that you have a heartbeat, as it shifts from each elaborate set-piece to the next, some of which are a great deal of fun.

Strangely enough, Total Recall reminded me a great deal of the fantastic Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol at times.  Both films are really just an elaborate excuse to execute insane set-pieces set against the world of super-spies and double-crossing.  The villain in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol was almost nonexistent and the logic in his schemes even less so.  The same is true here.  However, unlike Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Total Recall is missing out on the pure fun, spectacle, and inventiveness that made that film so spectacular.

The strange thing is that there are some truly creative and unique ideas presented in Total Recall that appear momentarily only to be quickly disposed of seconds later.  Things like hand-phones, gravity-tether guns, and even a hologram-creating necklace are well designed and eventually underutilized.  Some concepts do end up getting a full treatment, like a elevator that switches gravitational pull as it passes through the center of the Earth, but it isn't enough to stop the film from feeling so familiar.

The same can be said of the performances.  While Colin Farrell makes for a far more believable every-man than Arnold Schwarzenegger he is never able to conjure the same level of disbelief as the former Governor.  Kate Beckinsale and Bryan Cranston seem to be having fun in their villainous roles, as they chew up the scenery, but are never truly able to raise the characters above their one-note characterization.  Meanwhile, Jessica Biel succeed tremendously at giving her best impersonation of "boring".

Total Recall is by no means a bad film, it’s entertaining for the time that takes to watch it.  The problem with it is that it offers nothing new to the story other than a more slick and modern paint-job.  There is no lingering ambiguity or moments that will stick with you.  It is in that way that Total Recall is at its most dreamlike.  Just like a dream you'll find yourself forgetting it a few minutes after its over. 

2 / 4 Reels


1 comment:

  1. Good review Dan. I didn't dislike this film as many other people, but I still thought it was an unneeded remake in the first place, that didn't really do much with it's original material in the first place. Still, Biel and Beckinsal are always great to look at.