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At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Total Recall “2012”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Sci-Fi Action/ Stars: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine, Bill Nighy, John Cho, Will Yun Lee, Dylan Smith/ Runtime: 118 minutes

Before I go any further with this review I would like you all to know something very important: the 2012 take on perennial Ahnuld sci-fi film Total Recall from 1990 does give us a chance to see a woman with a trio rather than a duo of a certain appendage. Yet this is also a problem for this particular movie. That’s because even though in the 1990 take on this story it was comprehended in a context point of view that the woman looked that way because she was a mutant, the narrative dealing with mutated people on Mars combating some devious people with the help of the ol’ T-101, whilst this same woman showing up in this version makes no sense at all. Rather, it looks like she just pops up in order to remind people of the original film and apparently concepts like context and theme were not as important as rehashing the basic idea of a “spy” who is unaware he is a “spy” until he goes to get “spy” memories placed in his head which reawaken the previous “spy” memories that were already there……or something to that effect. I mean don’t get me wrong: this narrative has always been complicated in the best way possible and thankfully its intelligence quotient isn’t reduced in the 2012 take. Yet at the same time, this slice of cinematic pie does feel quite unnecessary even though there is still a hint of fun to be found if you look really hard for it. Indeed here is a movie that tries to tell a familiar narrative in a distinct manner whilst also not entirely abandoning a lot of the items that made the first feature-length stab at the property work on the way that it was meant to. Indeed 2012’s take on Total Recall is one that makes the choice to utilize action beats more so than a convoluted narrative and an intriguing cast of characters and honestly that’s ok. The only thing I can advise, both movie goer and those who made this, then is please forget about the 1990 adaptation. I mean had the filmmakers done away with a lot of the ingredients in this that operate as callbacks to the original, then I feel movie goers could have quite easily found a fair bit more to enjoy here than this is ultimately offered. As it is though, this film isn’t bad, but boy will it make you recall and long to see a much better movie in the process.

The plot is as follows: the 2012 take on Total Recall takes us to a possible future at the eclipse of the 21st century and where we see that chemical combat has annihilated the planet to the point that a place to call home is now the most valuable item on Earth. To that end, we see that only a pair of locales still exist that have the potential to allow life to flourish to some extent: the United Federation of Britain (2021’s Western Europe) and The Colony (2021’s Australia). We also see that those who live at the Colony are able to get to the UFB via a high speed transport known simply as “The Fall” which they use to get to work in putting together robotic law enforcement officers which aid human cops in keeping up the new police state the world has found itself in. With that in mind, we soon meet our hero in the form of a guy named Douglas Quaid who is a seemingly ordinary guy married to a lovely woman by the name of Lori. Yet life isn’t all that it’s cracked up for ol’ Doug as he has been having a nightmare here lately that sees him with an enigmatic female and locked in combat with someone trying to kill them. Having decided to do something though about his one-note life, we see that our intrepid hero has decided to visit a company called Rekall where they are able to give you memories that can make life more exciting again. Of course, there is one particular caveat to this whole thing: the created memories cannot be copies of actual memories or you might have….complications. Of course, it should come as no surprise to learn that Doug is in for quite the surprise then when he learns that the memories that of a spy, are already in his head. Something he comes to learn when he is able to mop the floor with at least 20 cops sent to get him. To that end, Doug goes on the lam only to quickly learn that everything he thought he knew is a cleverly insidious deception. To that end, we soon see that the only person he can trust is a woman by the name of Melina and that he is now a key individual in a gruesome rebellion between the Colony and the UFB and their nefarious leader and both parties want him on their side even if he still is unable to quite remember why…..

Now although the 2012 take on Total Recall does deliver some wonderful action beats, is quite engaging when it wants to be, and does alright for itself in most other major categories is this a case of the good being found merely on the surface? Well…..yes and no dear reader. I say that because whilst Total Recall is not skin-deep, it also isn’t as immersive as it should be especially when taking into account the riveting wrinkles in the road that made the first movie so novel with its gift for merging together gonzo action, sly comedy, an intriguing plot, and an unknown locale laden with mystery both in plot and in characters. Yes 2012’s take on Total Recall is able to insert some immersive and intriguing back and forth on the memory procedure and there is a wonderful moment where see Quaid have to figure out if he is living in a fantasy or in an objective reality. Yet more immersive thematic concepts dealing with such things as the throwing away of the experiences in one’s life in favor of memories that were engineered in a lab really aren’t given their due as a narrative hook aside from utilizing them to set up action beats.  To that end, this film is both riveting and infuriating at the same time in that whilst it does show promise, it also falls flat on his face when it comes to conjuring up a more thought-provoking world save for the aforementioned moments that simply lead into action beats that, whilst well-constructed, give off vibes of being empty inside and operating without any degree whatsoever of much-needed distinctness.

Now with all of that being said, and as engaging as this slice of cinematic pie is, it still is quite jarring to see a movie call itself “Total Recall” and only get a passing nod toward the planet Mars. Indeed in case you didn’t know one of our closest celestial neighbors has literally no part to play in this movie as instead we get 2 territories that are in combat with each other in what looks like a case of those who’ve been enslaved revolting against those who’ve enslaved them. Indeed it’s a quite riveting dynamic that this film decides to by and large neglect due to the action beats taking top priority. I mean call me crazy, but I think this film would have functioned better had it been a different story, but in the same universe as the first film. In addition to the cursed familiarity of the narrative, there is also quite a bit in regards towards influences from other movies as we see that this film is set in a world that looks like Blade Runner, but filled with storm troopers. That and when you add in a steady stream of red, blue, and other color splotches on the screen, you are left with a film that by and large is very much unaware of just what kind of movie it would like to be.

Now it should be noted that the cast of this film does do the best job they could given that they are in a movie that is unsure of just what it is supposed to be. Indeed, in the lead role of Doug, Colin Farrell actually doesn’t do half bad and I’m not just talking about with the action moments. Rather, Farrell also manages to take on the quieter moments fairly well even when his character is supposed to be completely out of his element which is often. No this film’s script doesn’t really give a chance to show what he can do intellectually on the level of what he can do physically, but he still shows himself quite capable of acting from a pathos perspective as much as from one of an action hero. Sadly, neither of the dynamic duo of female leads are able to measure up to that though not for lack of effort. Indeed, in the role of Lori, Kate Beckinsale does try to play an ice cold and doggedly determined bad girl and it is a fair effort, but the script once again doesn’t allow for her to do her best. The same also be said for Jessica Biel as Melina because even though her character is a bit more even-headed, she also sadly doesn’t give the character anything that another actress could have brought to the table. Out of everyone in the supporting cast, the person who might fare the best is Bokeem Woodbine in a role that blends two of the original film’s characters in the forms of Quaid’s work buddy and the man sent in to talk him into believing he’s living a nightmare rather than reality into a single entity. Indeed Woodbine does a wonderful job with his dual set of tasks and as a result gives the most delightfully enigmatic performance in the film. This brings us to Bryan Cranston in the role of a slightly neutered Cohaagen and whilst Cranston does give the role a wonderful evil bent, but, again due to how terribly scripted the majority of the characters are, he still can’t bring the presence that Ronny Cox did to the part in 1990.

All in all I think it is safe to say that Total Recall is easily the most frustrating slice of cinematic pie to come out of the long-gone year 2012 since it manages to nail quite a bit yet never once does it manage to ever fully become its own thing. Indeed here is a slice of cinematic pie that is in the throes of trying to figure out just what it is since it is a remake by and large only in terms of title that tries to be as distinct from the original as it can be whilst also taking a lot of moments to remind those who watch it of how much better that film was to begin with.  I mean it is my distinct opinion that this take on Total Recall might actually not be half bad had it been tinkered with slightly so that it was an extension of the universe seen in the 1990 film instead of attempting to fit inside that slice of cinematic pie’s loafers which are simply too massive to ever fill completely. I mean don’t get me wrong: this movie is both riveting and well assembled, but the balance between the novel and what has been done before is not on the level it should be and there are just too many stupid choices in what they bring into the fold and what they abandon. I guess another way to look at this is that the conflicts that I have with the movie can be personified, oddly enough, by the woman with a trio rather a duo of a specific appendage in that this slice of cinematic pie, like her, is a gorgeous oddity that doesn’t seem to have anything else really going for it. Ultimately, I feel that the only way one might be able to watch and enjoy this is if you can distinguish between this film and the 1990 movie and appreciate this film for what it brings to the table even if that is not the easiest thing in the world to do. On a scale of 1-5 I give Total Recall “2012” a solid 2.5 out of 5.