Friday, August 3, 2012

Movie Review: "Total Recall" by Alex Schopp

Release: 2012 
Director: Len Wiseman
Written By: Kurt Wimmer, Mark Bomback
Actors: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 118 min

Twenty-two years ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger took us on a sci-fi adventure unsure of what was real and what was only in the mind. While considered cheesy in many regards, the film still pushed the boundaries of special effects and CG animation at the time. And more than anything, the film generally felt inspired.

This latest version puts Colin Farrell in the starring role and again, understandably, follows the same themes and plot devices. There was no doubt that the effects in the film raised the bar for the franchise, but did it feature the same inspiration?

There were some minor differences between the films, but the biggest being the way this film portrayed its dystopian future. Both started us off with very limited available living space left on our planet after years of wars and continued abuse to the environment. The first time around it was the planet Mars that we were trying to terraform for more living space. This time, we weren't exploring the surrounding planets, but instead, had technology that helped us tunnel through the center of the earth. This helped to transport characters between the two livable sectors left on the planet, but didn't provide nearly the conflict that the first film featured. Both faced similar overpopulation issues but I still can't figure out how the rebel victory in this film helped the situation. The different sectors of the planet were simple class divisions - one, the rich and powerful, the other, the lowly working class, more or less restricted to slums. The poor wanted to remove the constraints and persecutions enforced upon them by the upper classes, but had few options and resources to do so. Maybe this film was supposed to focus more on the political aspects of a situation like this, but I really felt little resolution or sense of accomplishment throughout the film, other than maybe on a moral level. It definitely didn't feel nearly as dire as the first time around though.

That's probably the only real discussion of the plot that needs addressed however, because other than that, just about everything was similar to the previous film. For the most part I'm going to assume that everyone has seen the original, because, if you haven't, then you probably need to do so. But once you get past the differences in futuristic outcomes, it's nearly scene for scene with the 1990 film. And for those that have seen the earlier film, if that sounds like a positive to you, trust me, it isn't.

Let's quickly jump over to some of the positives for the film though, because there were a few, though not many. It comes as no surprise I'm sure, but the effects were the stars of this show. The designs of the cities were amazing, and I really did love all of the intricacies of and details of the surroundings. There were plenty of scenes that led us through the workings of the cities that I nearly appreciated, but they were all paced so quickly that it was never the point for us to focus on these details. This was unfortunate because what we did get to see truly was a thing of beauty. It all felt very "Blade Runner" to me, and if you've seen that film, it's definitely a plus. The technologies were revamped this time around too, and featured some pretty neat things. I'm always a sucker for futuristic technology, so seeing some of the new gadgets here was a bit of a treat. Not quite as much originality as I might have hoped for, but there were still moments. The cell phone technology stands out as the most unique.

There are some slightly stylized action scenes that were visually interesting, but my mind was much too overwhelmed with the quantity of them to care too much. I realize it's an action film, but I really can't figure out how they snuck any character development in with so much constant action. I'm fairly certain that we didn't go ten minutes at any point in the film without a gun fight. And speaking of, there were far too many of them for our main characters to continually avoid the bullets. There were robots and trained agents after them every step of the way, but somehow none of them could ever hit their targets. I realize this happens in every action film, but it was just too repetitive for me not to be continually frustrated.

I don't think I really had any problems with any of the acting or actors in the film, but the script and directing didn't do enough with any of them to make much of a difference. Everything felt so cookie-cutter that, outside in the upgrades in the effects department, they led to nothing new for this story. The majority of the film just felt like it was copied scene for scene from the previous film, worrying more about banking in on the nostalgic ties to the original than actually doing anything new and exciting with the sci-fi genre. By the way, I want to note that I really had hoped to avoid so many comparisons to the previous film in this review, but it is impossible to avoid. There was so much that was copied that even the homages to the previous film didn't feel like fun easter eggs, they just came off as forced and unoriginal. And I realize that complaining about originality in a remake seems silly, but we've seen it done well in the past; it didn't work here.

Overall, the film was monotonous and tiresome. I enjoyed the dystopian sci-fi elements featured, and generally appreciate the filmmakers and producers tackling this concept to bring it to the screens for us again, but outside of that there wasn't much to offer. The film was nearly two-hours long, and with all of the repetitive action elements, I was thinking more about how bored and overloaded my brain was than anything else. I hate saying it, but this was easily one of the least interesting and exciting experiences I've had in the theaters this year, possibly even being my worst. The effects and scenery made it easier to digest most of the material, but it definitely wasn't powerful enough to overcome the rest of the drab film. More than anything, scene after scene just made me yearn from the original. The aspects that made the first film so fun and playful were completely omitted this time around.

Honest to God, right after watching the film, I hopped over to Best Buy and picked up the Blu-Ray of the 1990 release. I don't claim "Total Recall" as one of my favorite sci-fi films or anything, but watching this film just made me want to watch a decent version of the story. Do yourself a favor; give this 2012 edition a pass. It might make for a visually worthwhile rental someday, but for now, as much as I love the theater, it isn't worth the eight dollars for admission. You'll leave more frustrated and worn out than anything.