'Total Recall' rates as total disappointment

atomictown.comAugust 5, 2012 

Please don't hit me, but I was really looking forward to the remake of Total Recall.

I like the original, but it is a lot different from Philip K. Dick's story, mostly because it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger. And Schwarzenegger, for all his charms, is like a King Midas, except instead of turning everything he touches to gold, he turns it into a gun so large it can only be wielded by a tank or him. I would argue that's actually more valuable than gold, but it's not always what I want from a movie.

-- Local show times, theaters, trailer.

I was looking forward to another take, then. Maybe something a little more serious. Something better-suited to capturing Dick's mind-smashing plot. Too bad for me, because the newest Total Recall isn't so much concerned with warping your perception of reality as it is with Colin Farrell's ability to jump.

In the future, the planet has been poisoned. Humanity survives in two cramped zones. Factory worker Colin Farrell yearns for something more. He soon winds up at Rekall, a business that can provide him with false memories of a more exciting life as a secret agent.

During the process, he discovers his memory's been wiped before -- because he already is a secret agent. Pursued around the world by federal agents, Farrell must find out who he really is and what he was trying to hide.

Sigh. Wait, that doesn't do my reaction justice. SIGH. OK, that's more like it. Because Total Recall is a total disappointment. Heh, I just made that up. Why is it so disappointing, you might ask? Well, I might ask you why we always have to point the finger. Sometimes things just don't work out and it's best to leave them at that. Remember, in order to dissect something, it has to be dead.

But Total Recall is a movie, not a person or a frog or a pig's heart, so let's slash away!

The main problem is the characters. And the story, quite frankly. But I mentioned the characters first, and I'm not about to go back and change that, so here we go. And the thing is the characters are just no good. Every one of them is one-dimensional, from Farrell's fake wife Kate Beckinsale to mustache-twirling chancellor Bryan Cranston. Then again, characters tend to be pretty flat when you spend zero time establishing them.

For instance, I think we only get to see Farrell and Beckinsale together as husband and wife for one whole scene before he discovers something's wrong and she's forced to try to kill him. With her bare hands, incidentally, which is such a stupid move that you should really be able to throw a penalty flag on the entire movie and make them replay the scene. In any event, since we don't know these characters as people or as a couple, it's really hard to care about their violent split.

Or anything that follows, frankly, including the arrival of Jessica Biel, a character whose qualifications as a love interest consist of the fact she looks good in cargo pants. The story -- which took five people to write -- is no more fleshed out. At its core, Total Recall is a movie about leaping. Not in a metaphorical sense. In the sense that Farrell spends 90% of it leaping off one thing and onto another thing. Roofs. Cars. Elevators. An enormous subway car that travels through the Earth's core.

Director Len Wiseman puts together a few clever action sequences. And you learn a fair amount about this packed-tight world just by watching Farrell jumping around in it. But the twists are clunky and transparent and the whole big struggle is little more than a sketch. Total Recall spends far too much time running away through its world and too little living in it.

Grade: C-

* Contact Ed Robertson at edwrobertson@gmail.com. His fiction is available on Kindle, Nook, Kobo and elsewhere.

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