Len Wiseman's TOTAL RECALL
Movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
The new TOTAL RECALL is a fun movie. It’s nowhere near as gratuitously gory and twisted as Paul Verhoeven’s great Arnold Schwartzenneger version, but it makes up for that with performances, visuals, and pacing that match and in some cases surpass the original.
It’s hard not to compare it with Arnold’s version. In fact, we watched that one last week in anticipation of seeing this new version; it holds up quite well despite the dated technology. What made it good, of course, was not only the weird excesses of director Verhoeven but the all around performances of the main characters, especially Michael Ironside.
Which brings us to Kate Beckinsale in the new version. Her character combines the roles of Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside from the original, and she handles that well — the obsessed lieutenant out for revenge.
Jessica Biel is the resistance fighter. She’s alternately sweet and violent. It’s a side of her I haven’t seen before. I don’t see her as making a career in violent action films but she holds her own.
Then there’s Colin Farrell. Sure, he’s no Arnold, that’s for sure. In fact, I think you could make a decent case that he’s absolutely not the right person to play this role given that he’s such a good actor. He spends much of his time in bewilderment at his unfamiliar identity and outraged puzzlement that everyone seems out to kill him.
He does the “bewilderment” thing quite well. When he does spring to action in the movie’s superb action sequences he acquits himself nicely. Character-wise, though, he’s not given as much to work with here, plus he’s teamed with two very attractive and interesting co-stars.
Given all that, this movie is a feast for the eyes. We now know it’s possible to display just about anything that can be imagined through the wonders of computer graphics. Watching this film we can see the design and image influences of many different films. The visuals are absolutely stunning and integrated with live action as well as anything I’ve seen since Prometheus. That’s saying lot.
The cityscapes are magnificent and show a future that is both repellent and inspiring — and real looking. There’s almost too much detail to take in here; I look forward to the Blu-ray version of the movie. Giant machines, tottering hovels, skyscrapers, and mucky streets all contribute to a vision that is some ways is reminiscent of the awesome vision of the original Metropolis.
The producers have outdone themselves here. Perhaps you can argue that they have overspent and overdesigned given that we are talking about a remake, after all, not an original vision. But there is enough original work here that reminds me in some ways of the astonishing scenery and sets of John Carter, another one of my recent favorites.
The action sequences are meticulously designed, edited, and produced. The hovercar/highway chase is spectacular with its combination of technologies reminiscent of Minority Report (mag-lev highways) , AI Artificial Intelligence (flying machines), and Fifth Element (cityscape canyons). Despite the spectacular visions, though, the focus stays on the chase and the three main characters as Beckinsale seeks to demolish Farrell and Biel.
Then there is the “elevator” chase sequence. It’s like a maniacal combination of the “highway of doors” sequence at the end of Pixar’s Monsters Inc. with the elevator shaft gymnastics of Inception. To top it off, the Good Guys are chased by humans and robots and the elevators travel horizontally as well as up and down. Pretty nifty.
Personal and wearable technology is strewn throughout the movie with very differnt approaches to display and user interface than what we are used to seeing. If you enjoyed seeing Arnold extract the transmitter through his nose in the first Total Recall wait till you see how Our Hero “removes” the cellphone in this version. Yikes!
Then there is the giant machine that flies through the center of the Earth where there is a momentary shift to weightlessness as “up” and “down” are switched. This leads to another action sequence where we finally see machine gun recoil used to propel the shooter in a weightless environment. It’s some of the best weightlessness effects I’ve seen since Mission to Mars.
Perhaps it would be correct to classify this film as “extreme popcorn.”
Review copyright (c) 2012 by Dennis D. McDonald