Saturday, August 4, 2012

In Theaters: TOTAL RECALL (2012)

(US - 2012)

Directed by Len Wiseman.  Written by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback.  Cast: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bill Nighy, Bokeem Woodbine, John Cho. (PG-13, 121 mins)

Is there really any need for a PG-13 remake of TOTAL RECALL?  Len Wiseman's (UNDERWORLD) take on the Paul Verhoeven/Arnold Schwarzenegger action/sci-fi classic from 1990 is even less faithful to its source, Philip K. Dick's short story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale," and ultimately won't supplant anyone's fond memories of the original, but for a good chunk of its duration, TOTAL RECALL 2012 is surprisingly good.  The script by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback completely jettisons the Mars element, and instead focuses on a post-chemical warfare 2084 Earth where the only inhabitable regions are (for some reason) "The United Federation of Britain," and Australia, now referred to as "The Colony."  I wouldn't be surprised if Wimmer, a veteran journeyman screenwriter (STREET KINGS, LAW ABIDING CITIZEN, SALT) best known to genre fans for writing and directing the excellent 2002 sci-fi cult classic EQUILIBRIUM, had a hand in shaping, or at least influencing, the very effective dystopian look of the futuristic Colony, which resembles a sort-of high-tech, Shanghai shanty town that's one big Red Light District.

Colin Farrell as Quaid
Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell, in his second summer remake in a row after last year's dismal FRIGHT NIGHT redux) is a factory worker who commutes daily from The Colony to the UFB on "The Fall," a seven-minute ride through the center of the Earth.  He assembles "Synthetics" (robotic police officers) for the UFB by day, and at night, is plagued by vague dreams where he's some kind of secret agent.  Other than feeling like he's stuck in a dead-end job, Quaid is happy with Lori (Kate Beckinsale), his wife of seven years, and despite warnings from his friend and co-worker Harry (Bokeem Woodbine), he visits the memory-implant company Rekall, thinking the implantation of a spy-type adventure will lift his spirits.  During the procedure, the Rekall staff realizes that Quaid already is a secret agent, though he has no memory of it.

Farrell and Kate Beckinsale: "Conseedah
dat a deevawrse!"
Anyone who's seen the Verhoeven film is obviously familiar with the story so far.  In one respect, it's a detriment because those of us who have seen TOTAL RECALL 1990 many times know about the characters Quaid (and his other identity, Hauser), Lori, Harry, Melina (played here by Jessica Biel) and the villain Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), and that inevitably takes the element of surprise away from the plot twists (though the filmmakers do have some fun playing with the malfunctioning fat-lady disguise that Quaid used to sneak through Mars security in the 1990 film, and Farrell's Quaid is seen reading Ian Fleming's The Spy Who Loved Me at one point). TR 2012 keeps the characters familiar but changes their surrounding story significantly.  Cohaagen is now the Chancellor of the UFB, intent on wiping out The Colony and "terrorist" Resistance leader Matthias (Bill Nighy) so as to eliminate the lower class--the factory workers, who he intends to replace with Synthetics--in order accommodate the burgeoning overpopulation issue in the upper-class UFB.  The remake eliminates Cohaagen's right-hand man Richter (memorably played by Michael Ironside in the 1990 film) and instead combines that character with Lori, thereby allowing Beckinsale to do her action heroine routine.  There's definitely the potential for seeing a political subtext here, but it's largely unexplored, instead focusing on action and some truly stunning visual effects.  As familiar as the story may seem despite the many changes, TR 2012 really excels with some astonishing production design and CGI wizardry to create one of the most dazzling future dystopias that's been seen on the screen in quite some time.  The budget for this was allegedly in the neighborhood of a ludicrous $200 million, but it shows (is it going to make that back?  Probably globally).  It's not just CGI greenscreen backgrounds.  There's some innovative set design and some extremely well-choreographed action sequences throughout.   Wiseman, directing his first film since the atrocious LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (2007), does a commendable job throughout, which I believe is the first time anyone has said such a thing about Len Wiseman.

Jessica Biel as "Meh-leeeee-naaaaah!"
Is TR 2012 as good as TR 1990?  No.  But for a good hour or more, it seems like it might be.  Only in the home stretch, when it starts getting louder and sillier and more illogical (would an evil, megalomaniacal supervillain like Chancellor Cohaagen really suit up and take part in a raid on Matthias' stronghold in the inhabitable No Zone?), and more derivative (utilizing elements of BLADE RUNNER, THE FIFTH ELEMENT, and even STAR WARS EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES), does it stumble somewhat.  There was really no reason for a TOTAL RECALL remake, and while it's not a complete success across the board, Wiseman, the screenwriters, and the production design and effects team really brought their A-game to it.  Perhaps it's a depressing sign of the times to resort to applauding filmmakers for not phoning it in and instead actually investing themselves in a project, but for the most part, TOTAL RECALL 2012 surpasses admittedly diminished expectations and is much more enjoyable and entertaining than it has any reason to be.

Farrell drops into this outtake from THE FIFTH ELEMENT

Earlier this week, to coincide with the remake, Lionsgate released a new Blu-ray edition of the 1990 original.  Their previous Blu-ray was a shoddy HD transfer, while the new "Mind-Bending Edition" was supervised and approved by director Paul Verhoeven.  The Verhoeven/Schwarzenegger commentary and the rest of the extras are carried over from the prior edition, along with a new "Restoration Comparison" detailing the process of restoring and remastering the film and doing a side-by-side comparison of the old vs. new transfers.  It's quite an upgrade.

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