Total Recall me, maybe
To be frank, I don’t totally recall everything that happened in Len Wiseman’s robot and laser confection, Total Recall. The movie is a remake of the 1990 action/sci-fi classic, but seems to ring back to many other films as well. It’s Star Wars meets Mission Impossible with a Mr. and Mrs. Smith twist and Tron-like visuals, except it lacks any clever plotting or emotional connection all of its ancestors contain. It’s a must-see for any potential alien fetishists out there (hoping there are none), but is missable to anyone else besides the dedicated action movie buff.
Not to say the movie is a complete waste. The film’s main attraction is the nonstop, in-your-face, hit-the-ground-running kick butt action, and in this aspect it triumphs. The high point of the film comes in about a third of the way through, when our bewildered protagonist Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) finds himself plunged in the middle of an intense hovercraft chase with attractive stranger Melina (Jessica Biel) in the driver’s seat. Predator and prey weave between other sleekly designed hovercrafts on a cement structure that resembles a road, but is suspended midair and transports travelers both on top and beneath it. The chase looks realistic enough to be happening right on the road outside the movie theater – the visuals are also a spectacle (more on that in a second). Characteristically the heroes escape their pursuers with a solution a first grader could have come up with, but it doesn’t matter because the payoff was already deliciously juicy.
When the film briefly surfaces for a short breath from the action (believe me, there’s a lot more than hovercrafts to look forward to), it offers an eye-full of futuristic visuals to gander at. Quaid lives in a dreary city where blocks of buildings float above other blocks of buildings and business signs interact with pedestrians. At the center is a colossal elevator carrying factory workers straight through the Earth’s core known as The Fall, undoubtedly the result of millions of dollars worth of visual effects but as believable as a city bus. Peter Chiang, in charge of special effects, did an excellent job polishing the movie’s high tech gadgets and weaponry to a sharp, realistic style. The universe’s technology poignantly contrasts the hazy, dreamlike direction in which it was filmed. Wiseman’s vision, including subtle rays of colored light randomly flashing across the screen at unscheduled intervals, keep the audience guessing if the whole thing is real or just a fabricated memory.
Oh yeah, the movie kind of has a story, too. Quaid is a down-on-his-luck factory worker living with his “wife” Lori (Kate Beckinsale) in a modest apartment after World War III left the Earth in an unlivable state everywhere besides The Colony (Australia) and the United Federation of Britain. Bored of his mundane job traveling directly through the Earth’s core each day to engineer Stormtroopers battle robots (a questionable plot point that surprisingly works), Quaid decides to visit Total Rekall, a consonant-confused memory-creating parlor that gives customers a realistic memory of any fantasy they so desire.
Just before the fun begins, a pesky squad of battle robots arrives to shoot everyone and arrest Quaid for reasons he doesn’t understand. On the run from the law and his (presumed) ex-wife (who was, alas, a bloodthirsty assassin), with only the aforementioned attractive stranger to trust, Quaid must discover his true identity and importance in the midst of constant flashy explosions.
Although the solid cast did as much as they could with their characters’ lackluster writing, there were no opportunities to shine. Major props to Farrell for being able to maintain his deer caught in headlights expression for as long as the script called for. I do have to wonder why two actresses who look as similar as Beckinsale and Biel were cast together, though. Nothing against the two actresses (they’re great), but at times, partly due to the frantic camerawork but mostly due to their identical hair and body type, I had no clue who was who. There’s a scene near the end where Lori wears a collar disguising her face as Melina’s. When the machine is turned off, it’s almost comical what little difference the change back to Lori’s face makes. Am I seeing things? Or rather, not seeing things? Nonetheless, both pulled off a respectable job.
The film’s inarguable weak point is the story and writing. Running approximately two hours, it’s rather surprising how little surprises there are. Albeit, there is a small twist just before the end that took me off guard, and resulted in the film’s best non-hovercraft scene. But throughout the entire film, there’s a hopeless lack of guidance. I’m still not entirely sure why the conflict came to be in the first place, or what that conflict was exactly, and I’m not one hundred percent certain the ending resolved any of it, if anything at all. Let’s just say commuting to work will be a lot more inconvenient now. I guess I shouldn’t have expected any quality storytelling from an action movie, though. Hasn’t Transformers taught me anything?
However, I will congratulate the writers on not taking the “and it was all a dream/Total Rekall memory” ending route, which I completely expected and dreaded they would. Why would Quaid pay big money for that memory, when it’s already fuzzy in my own mind?
One star for each alien boob!