Memory Maker: Revamp of Schwarzenegger hit Total Recall lags in the beginning, delivers in the end.>Memory Maker: Revamp of Schwarzenegger hit Total Recall lags in the beginning, de
Thursday, August 2, 2012
It’s an ingenious premise: Life is boring and you’re unfulfilled. How cool would it be to have new memories implanted in your brain, and you can’t tell that they’re fake? What Total Recall does with this idea ultimately works, but only after you get through the dull first hour and things click into gear for an exciting second half.
In this remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger hit, Colin Farrell takes the lead as Doug Quaid, a lowly factory worker who isn’t content with his super-hot wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale). He desires personal and professional growth, and because only Britain and the “Colony” (Australia) are inhabitable in this dystopian future, it’s not like he can move elsewhere for a fresh start. His friend Harry (Bokeem Woodbine) tells him to stay the course and everything will be fine, but Doug can’t help but want more. Worse, a resistance movement led by the reclusive Matthias (Bill Nighy) against the British Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) is creating civil unrest and constant danger.
Doug is, however, intrigued by the idea of “Rekall,” which is misspelled in the movie for no good reason. At Rekall he asks for the memories of a spy, but before the implant goes through he’s attacked by security guards and finds himself on the run. He now believes he’s a brainwashed resistance fighter, and with the help of Melina (Jessica Biel) he strives to get to the bottom of who’s manipulating him and why.
On paper, i.e. Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback’s script, the first hour should work. Expository info is gradually revealed, impressive set designs and visual effects show a civilization so over-populated it now exists high above sea level, cool action and effects liberate Doug from his doldrums, etc. This should all work together to get us invested for a big payoff.
In execution, however, director Len Wiseman (Underworld) struggles to provide urgency and purpose to these early moments. Granted, Doug is confused and we only know what he knows, but Wiseman needs to elevate the viewing experience to a point where we’re intrigued by this world and the thematic ideas just as much as we are Doug’s journey.
Wiseman fails at this, but succeeds once Doug meets Melina and finds his calling, which also gives the story clarity. The non-stop action is nicely done, including Doug’s initial shootout/escape from Rekall and a chase scene with flying cars. The best sequence, however, comes with the complex staging and smart execution of horizontal and vertical-moving elevators, which plays like jumping from one piece of an exploding puzzle to the next. It’s no coincidence that after this scene the rest of the movie really takes off.
Total Recall is not a faithful remake of Schwarzenegger’s earlier film (there’s no Mars, for example), but it is one that has fresh ideas and brings them forward in a new way. It’s decent and serviceable, not memorable but fitfully entertaining for a mindless night out. And yes, the fact that a movie about implanting memories plays as “mindless” is part of its problem, but man do those action scenes and visual effects look cool.
TOTAL RECALL (2½) • Directed by Len Wiseman • Starring Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bill Nighy, Bryan Cranston • Rated PG-13 • 118 min. • AtCentury Cinemas Del Monte, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas, Cannery Row XD.