MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Total Recall’


Total Recall is a film about a ho-hum factory worker named Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) who, on the recommendation of a co-worker, decides to visit a company called Rekall. In Rekall, they basically plug you into a machine that can give you the memories of any life or fantasy that you desire. Want to think that you were a rock star and have actual memories of living that life? No problem, just pay up and plug in. The only catch is that you’re not supposed to have them implant memories of a life that you already live. If you are already a spy in real life, they won’t implant additional fake memories of a spy fantasy, or it could cause a drastic brain overload, and then God kills a puppy…or did my mom tell me that after the time she caught me…nevermind. Anyway, guess what happens to poor old Doug! After he essentially gets his mind scrambled, Doug spends the rest of the movie trying to figure out what’s real, who he was, who he is and who he should be, not to mention who he should trust. It’s a great concept, but the movie left much to be desired with the follow-through.

There were some ups, some downs…some more downs, and way too much Colin Farrell. I do have to give credit where credit is due, though, so let’s start out with a spoon full of sugar before the medicine goes down.

Aesthetically, the movie deserves a quick pat on the back. The FX played more of a supporting role, helping to paint a picture of a believable futuristic society, rather than to be a crutch for lack of creative vision. The direct physical action and character play was more rooted in the hard physical realm with hand-to-hand combat, chase scenes, force-fields, cell phone hand implants, Kung-Fu robots, electric rope tazers, 3-boobed hookers, flying magnet cars…OK, OK, so there was a crap-load of CGI, but it really didn’t steal the show! The tasteful use of CGI created a fictional world that passed as a realistic product of the evolution of our present-day technology. Instead of floating cars that just magically defy the laws of gravity, in the Total Recall realm, cars fly through the sky on magnet tracks, something that we currently use in train technology. Quick travel between opposite ends of the globe existed in the movie, but it was made possible by heat-shielded high-speed trams that traveled through the center of the earth. Not a whole lot of extreme fantasy here, save a few impressive gadgets.

Oh, a quick factoid about the future: They sure do love them some hallways and elevators. In the future, apparently no matter where you go, every six feet there’s a minimum of 6 hallways containing at least 142 different elevators. This movie boasted no less than 1,247 elevator chase and/or fight scenes. In fact, look around you. If you’re not in a hallway that leads to an elevator, you’re probably not in the future. Actually, now that I think of it, most of what I remember from Total Recall are hallways, elevators, escalators, trams, moving sidewalks, transports, lifts, moving tunnels, trains, cars, 3-boobed hookers, robots and plenty of bad acting.

As far as the rest of the movie goes, yeeeeesh! The difference between Colin Farrell and Keanu Reeves? About 2 eyebrow raises. The guy is almost as disconnected from convincing emotional output as if I were to pretend to cry after seeing a hipster get hit by a bus, then drop-kicked by a mule wearing roller skates and a top-hat. Kate Backinshmale (Beckinsale) or whatever her name is, she’s what, 85lbs soaking wet with a pocket full of rocks? Why is she playing a bad ass secret agent chick who’s capable of beating the balls out 200lb super soldiers and jumping through 3rd story plate glass windows? That twig could use a band-aid as a shoulder sling. She’s just not believable. Sorry, Hollywood, a British accent and a few contrived sassy lines doesn’t make you James Bondess. Let me just lay it all out on the table here for Kate Bleckinshmeel. She couldn’t act her way out of a cow’s ass if she had a steak knife and a fist full of Astro Glide.

The lack of an engaging back story, the poorly developed characters and the disconnect between the characters formed the triple-threat soggy sigh pie that really made me yearn for a better movie. Here:

1.) The little engine that couldn’t. One of the most important tools that a writer can use to engage an audience immediately in this type of “something bad happened before this movie started that created a riff in the world, now we have to fight for the survival of our group in the future” movie, is to create an enthralling back-story. Obviously movies have a time quota, so give me a good one-two “what happened” punch to get me right into the zone. Pull me out of my seat in this old downtown Boston theater that smells like curry and asparagus piss and plant me firmly into the story that’s set in a troubled futuristic city that kind of looks like it smells of curry and asparagus piss…damn. Not only introduce me to the characters, but more importantly, bond me as an audience member to their impending struggle. Without a good setup, it’s a long and painful uphill chug to try and pull an audience back in. In Total Recall, we’re just expected to hype ourselves up and become emotionally invested on our own in a story that’s already half over when it starts. This is a movie, folks, not a self-help group. The writer and director are supposed to grease those wheels for us.

2.) The characters. I don’t care about anyone in this movie! I never connected with any of the personalities. Watching a movie like the Avengers, I was rooting for everyone, even the bad guys. Every character was likeable and had his or her own quirky sense of humor, identity and believable sense of purpose. I could feel for them. I worried about them. I wanted to prance through wild flower fields wearing a sun dress with Robert Down…you’d figure that I’d just hit “backspace” on that one, right? So many of the crucial lines in Total Recall, however, seemed phoned-in. It felt like when an Olympian knows that they just qualified for their event, so they finish out the rest of the trials half-assed so they don’t tire themselves out for the medal round. I’m not sure what these guys were waiting for, but I definitely blame the director for their lack of spark.

3.) Interaction. There was no chemistry between the characters. No push-and-pull. The actors made me feel as if I were watching a 2-hour audition. Everyone seemed more focused on just getting their lines right, instead of becoming intertwined with each other, both fueling and eating from the common fire. Kate Bakesale, y u no like acting? I could cut the weak dramatic tension with a fart. “Hey, was that your line? Oh, ok, cool. I’m just gonna read my line here and then jump out that window over there, ok? Great. See you in makeup! I loved you in Underwoooooooooorrrrllld….”

Another key to any “fight the tyranny with righteous revolt” movie is the moral of the story. What did the characters learn? What code of ethics drove them to fight? What caused their change or epiphany? The message in Recall might as well have been delivered by Domino’s, because it was cold, mediocre and late. About 3/4 through the movie, Doug’s (Farrell) “mentor” (Bill Nighy) delivers a monotone, campy, uninspired line about one’s present self mattering more than one’s past self, because the past distorts reality…the present moment is one’s continued chance for redemption and change blah blah blah. I’ve seen Dr. Phil piss less generic advice. Apparently, that one wet-noodled “Morpheus wanna-be” line made Douglas forget all about a whole movie’s worth of him trying to remember who he WAS, and made him want to embrace who he IS, which he doesn’t remember either because, oh, that’s right, his fucking mind got erased. I’m getting queezy, give me a minute…OK, I’m good.

About 20 minutes later, right before the movie wraps up, Douglas regurgitates that generic live-in-the-now astrology blurb to the evil Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), using an unconvincing delivery akin to a scared little boy who is parroting his parent’s advice to a schoolyard bully in order to avoid a fight. Douglas then quickly and amazingly wins his 3rd or 4th hand-to-hand, flesh-to-steel combat battle against another super-advanced killer Kung Fu robot, then puzzlingly spends the next 5 minutes struggling like a chubby kid during warm-ups in a strip-mall Karate class to take down a 56 year-old wrinkling Cohaagen. Some other shit happens, Douglas gets a convenient mere flesh wound after an entire fucking city block is reduced to snakes and sparklers, then Colin (Douglas), in his most accomplished acting feat in the whole movie, perhaps his whole career, manages to crack a “this smile wasn’t in my contract” smile at Melina (Jessica Beil) or something, I don’t know, I just remember that the 3-boobed hooker wasn’t anywhere to be found, and she was really good at smiling.

In the end, I couldn’t really be too upset, considering that I went into the theater knowing that I was about to watch a modern-day quick-buck remake staring two very vanilla actors.

I just left the theater feeling apathetic, tired and wondering why that scene with the 3-boobed hooker didn’t last 118 minutes, which is coincidentally the exact length of the movie. Harumph!

Final judgement? Just wait until it’s on TBS at 2am and enjoy the free sleep aid. D+

EDITORS NOTE: This review was provided by NB contributor Philip J. Mauch. FYI: for vocal artists/musicians out there, Phil  owns and operates Transonic Studios, a premier recording studio in Massachusetts Middlesex County. To schedule a booking or get more information, check out the Transonic web page (HERE) or the Transonic Facebook page (HERE)

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