If you missed my preview of the new Total Recall film, you can check it out here. If you don’t feel like clicking the link, what I wrote about the upcoming movie is basically this: Remaking the classic Total Recall is dangerous; there is no replacing Arnold Schwarzenegger; the remake will have to be different, but not too different; the cast seemed strong; and the success of the entire movie relied on a strong script and plot.
Looking back on the first article, I was right about a few things, in that remaking the classic Total Recall was, in fact, very dangerous and that the movie needed a good script. Therein lies problem #1 with this film. As much as it was different from the original and creative in some ways, the aspects of the movie that were carried over from the original were explained poorly. It felt very much to me like The DaVinci Code, which relied on the viewer to have read the book to understand the film.
In this case, the new Total Recall relied on the viewer to have seen the original Total Recall to understand the characters and their relationships and motives. (Warning: SPOILERS) For example, I saw the movie with a few friends, one of whom had not seen the original, and though she is a very intelligent and intuitive person, I still had to explain to her that the character Lori in the new film is actually an amalgamation of two characters from the original, Lori and Richter. Knowing this is the only way to understand why Lori (Kate Beckinsale) pursued Douglas Quaid/Karl Hauser (Colin Farrell) so intensely the whole movie and why she didn’t die till the very end, rather than halfway through the movie. I also had to explain the relationship between Karl Hauser and Chancellor Cohaagen, because the fact that they are close friends is barely hinted at. It really was the small, niggly details like this which ruin the movie, because they go largely unexplained — given that you are assumed to have seen the first film and that you know these details — and they leave the viewer, especially one who hasn’t seen the original, simply confused to wander loosely throughout the already shaky and curiously I, Robot-like plot.
I was also wrong about a few things. I thought that the cast — which included the likes of Emmy award winner Bryan Cranston and Golden Globe winner Bill Nighy — could have been strong. I thought that Colin Farrell could have exceeded in his first real leading role, but then I learned why he has never had a leading role: His acting was flat and unconvincing of someone who just discovered that his entire life had been a lie. Jessica Biel, sadly, was no better, and Nighy and Cranston’s characters didn’t appear till the end of the movie and were grossly misused. Matthias (Bill Nighy) should have been far more of a mystery, and Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) should have been much angrier and less gleeful and boastful.
And honestly, many of the problems with the acting aren’t necessarily the actors’ fault, as much as it was the direction and the writing. As I stated before, many of the relationships between the characters were fuzzy, which make them hard to believe in the first place. They also are forced to say some of the worst one-liners to come out of an action movie, and many of the characters suffer from such inconsistent writing, it’s almost silly. For example, when Matthias meets Hauser, Matthias gets annoyingly preachy about how the past doesn’t matter — which Hauser argues against in the most ridiculous and unnecessary pseudo-philosophical debate, ever — and then hooks his mind up to a machine to find something from Hauser’s past that he cannot remember. So, much like the plot, the characters also suffer greatly from poor writing and direction.
I should also probably write something about the failings of Kate Beckinsale’s character, but I’ll admit my bias here, Beckinsale being my ultimate celebrity crush, which explains why she can do no wrong in my eyes.
In all, the writing was bad, the plot was bad, the characters were bad and the script was bad. So, what wasn’t bad? Really, all that was good in this movie were the action and special effects. Much of the movie was confusing and poorly written, but it looked cool. The CGI in the movie was actually quite excellent. The magnetic hover cars, the robots, The Fall (a supermassive gravity elevator), and the scenery shots all looked great and realistic. Plus, the special effects were imaginative. For example, I really liked the scenes where The Fall passed the Earth’s core and went zero gravity, and I especially enjoyed the way they used the zero gravity for fight scenes.
And speaking of fight scenes, there were many, and they looked good, even though they had a bit of a video game feel at times. As I mentioned in my previous article, there wasn’t much shaky cam in the fight scenes, which really helped the fighting flow naturally because you could follow the action and movements of each character. Also, where the characters were lacking in the acting department, they absolutely excelled in the action department. This is where Colin Farrell and Kate Beckinsale were at their best. Both are action/fighting film veterans, and it showed in this movie, especially the scenes where they were fighting each other. Now, I’m used to seeing Beckinsale as the protagonist, but as the baddie (as she would probably say, being British), Lori, she was bad ass. She was relentless and ruthless in her pursuance of Karl Hauser, and when they clashed, it was spectacular due to the excellent choreography of their fights and chase scenes, some of which took place in small, convoluted spaces, like an elevator, an ambulance and a small apartment.
So, to sum up this movie: As a film which bears the name and relationship with Total Recall, this film is a massive disappointment. It’s too much of a departure from the original, and what was carried over from the original wasn’t explained properly or at all, which was incredibly confusing. Also, this movie completely missed the awesome sci-fi element of the original, and it suffered greatly from poor writing and direction. However, it was a pretty good action movie.
In my opinion, this never should have been Total Recall; it should have been something different where it could have stood alone as a good action movie. Instead, this was a terrible remake of a sci-fi classic that left me confused and disappointed. As an action movie, this is worth renting. But if you’re a lover of the original Total Recall, like me, my advice is simple: Don’t bother with this movie. Just go watch Arnold kick ass again.
My Rating: 4 out of 10 — Good action, but a terrible disappointment to the title. Kate Beckinsale being the baddie earns a star by itself (bias alert).