Movie Review: “Total Recall” – Fuhgeddaboudit

By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic

One’s worst fears are imagined, realized and rummaged through to no end in director Len Wiseman’s “Total Recall,” a more or less reimagining of the 1990 film, also inspired by Philip K. Dick’s short story, “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale.” It tempted me to visit Rekall, where I could buy memories of a better movie. I don’t think I did.

You see, Rekall is where you go for an ingestion of drug-induced fantasy in this late 21st Century, post apocalyptic Earth decimated by chemical warfare. Call it the opiate of the brave new world. Gee, and you don’t even need a prescription…glad they finally got that settled. Still, fascists shouldn’t despair. George Orwell’s Big Brother is alive and well.

But time out for a second. No hurry dispensing this review. Now, I realize sci-fi writers like to use these gloom and doom themes as cautionary metaphors, creative muckrakes of current problems and injustices. But sometimes they can be like your pessimistic old aunt. Just once I’d like to see a seriously good film advancing a rosy, progressive future.

But not here, dear reader. Shadows of “Blade Runner” (1982) and a host of other grimly morose posterities Hollywood has fashioned to scare the bejesus out of us, it’s always raining in factory worker Douglas Quaid’s life of quiet desperation…probably because we dumb humans have ruined the environment. Naturally, our man pines for a better life.

Shooting through the center of the Earth in an elevator that transports him daily from the ghetto he lives in to the plant where he builds synthetic policemen, Doug daydreams of being something important…something that matters…maybe even a secret agent. Well, updating the genie and his wishes, Rekall performs its version of poof! And so it is done.

However, there is a snafu during the strap-down, potion-injecting sequence, a classical cliché not too visually removed from the setup where Frankenstein drew his very first breath. What happens is, you can’t ask for a memory close to reality. So John Cho, the Rekall guy, freaks out when it appears Doug may — holy cow! — actually be a spy.

The film’s concept is still swell. And oh, this is OK as a showcase for the cutting edge special effects now available to the cinema sorcerer. Otherwise, nothing here warrants a remake. “Total Recall” redux plays as if all the creative parts were mischievously jumbled by the apprentice who, in rushed desperation, put them back in total disarray.

Recalling the old Memorex ad, the plot consists of one question: Is he Quaid, factory worker with a fantasy, or Carl Hauser, spy extraordinaire? Back and forth the quandary goes, the accompanying, non-stop action scenes charging ahead in a barrage of relentless violence. Whoever he is, people want to kill him, maybe even his wife (Kate Beckinsale).

That is, if she’s his wife. Oh, and there’s another woman, Melina (Jessica Biel), both in real life, so-called, and in his dreams, if that’s what they are. The implications here are obvious, portending that love, marriage and its attending vagaries won’t be changing very much in the future. But boy, someone among the screenwriters sure had an axe to grind.

Kate Beckinsale as sweet wife Lori shows her other side once the movie starts doing its heart-thumping, frenzied thing. Medusa has nothing on this harridan. Of course it crosses our minds that Melina is no better. Which reminds me of a B.B. King lyric my friend Ken used to sing in our teens: “No one loves me but my mother, and she could be jiving, too.”

If you wanted to go out on a limb the case could be made that “Total Recall’s” journey through chaos and uncertainty is a poor man’s explanation of relativity… Einstein’s theory acted out for the Great Unwashed. Too bad it’s so cacophonous, so poorly realized and, essentially, without a sense of humor. Colin Farrell as the fancy amnesiac is no help.

His Doug, or Carl, or whoever, is grim and uninteresting, begging the question, why should I care about you? I mean, hey, I know you’re living in a depressing, autocratic environment, plus there’s that alienation of labor situation. But things are tough all over, pal. You’ve got to give me something more than just three varieties of furrowed brow.

Worse yet, the social message, about haves, have-nots and the civil war in which Doug becomes a major operative, or so he thinks, is treated too perfunctorily. Which explains why folks who can’t account for why they chose to see “Total Recall” will, in a variation on the Bob Hope theme song, find themselves trilling, “No thanks for the memories.”

“Total Recall,” rated PG-13, is a Columbia Pictures release directed by Len Wiseman and stars Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale. Running time: 118 minutes

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