Remakes are tricky things. When one has a special connection to the original film, it's very hard to watch the remake objectively. Sometimes the remakes turn out alright, like The Uninvited (the original, A Tale of Two Sisters, is one of my all-time favorite horror films). Then you've got films like Clash of the Titans, which make you want to strangle yourself on your over-buttered movie popcorn. Everybody has a movie they think never needs to be remade, and for some of my friends, Total Recall is it. But me? Well, my relationship with Total Recall is a weird one.
I was six, maybe seven. We were at my mother's best friend's house and I wanted to show off to her cool husband. I had a knack for falling off their monkey bars and not getting hurt. However, metal monkey bars that had been freshly rained on laid the foundation of a pretty terrible evening. I fell before I was ready and broke my arm half way. They brought me inside, and that's where things get a little hazy. What I do remember, however, is seeing a woman with three breasts on the TV as I sat there with a half-broken arm. I also remember peoples' faces becoming all crazy due to exposure to Martian atmosphere, but that must've been from another viewing because the time between the three-breasted woman on screen and the climax was vast and my parents couldn't have possibly waited that long to take me to the hospital.
So, needless to say, Total Recall and I have always had a...special connection. The remake looked pretty good, but my one question was, "Where's the three-breaste woman?" Then the second trailer (see below) came out and confirmed that yes, there would indeed be a three-breasted working girl. With that in mind, I plopped my butt in the seat last night ready to enjoy whatever they had to throw at me.
Recall follows Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell), a simple Mass Effect 2 mech assembly line worker, who travels every day to work from the oppressed, continent-sized ghetto of Austrailia, now called The Colony, to The United Federation of Britain (the only two inhabitable places left on earth) via a giant set-piece called the Fall, which passes through the center of the Earth betwixt points A and B. Getting passed up for a promotion because he's a filthy Colonist, Quaid decides to check out Rekall and get some memories implanted. Deciding to go with the 'super spy' implant, since he has this recurring dream where he and Jessica Biel get all sweaty while escaping from some bad guys, things go very wrong very quickly. Quaid finds himself being hunted by his wife (director Wiseman's vampire wife Kate Beckinsale) and the very Mass Effect 2 robots he helped build, because he's apparently someone else. The only problem is that he can't remember who he was! Can his dream girl and Shaun of the Dead's dad help him save the Colony from destruction?
First off, we have a pretty solid cast. Farrell, Beckinsale, and Biel are the central trifecta, and they all perform their roles perfectly. Watching Biel and Beckinsale punch each other in close-quarters made me feel funny in my pants, so that's a plus. Bryan Cranston unsurprisingly nails the calous villain of the film, and Devil's Bokeem Woodbine is great as Quaid's BFF. John Cho rocks blond hair and a goatee as the Rekall guy and Bill Nighy is the resistance leader. Praising his performance is redundant, because he's Bill F*cking Nighy. Most importantly, not only do we have our three-breasted prostitute (Kaitlyn Leeb) and a foxy, black Rekall secretary (Mishael Morgan). Two points!
This film does have some great things going for it. The landscapes we're treated to are incredible, from the topsy-turvy, suffocatiing, piece-meal buildings of the Colony to the ritzy, clearly we're-better-than-you aesthetics of the United Federation of Britain. The world they craft in Total Recall is absolutely fantastic. The technology is awesome too, the kind of stuff you'd see in a future version of a Bond movie. I thought, early on, that Q would jizz in his pants at some of the technology they had on display. My favorite bit was probably the taser restraints, although the Fall was a pretty nifty set-piece.
The nods to the original are nice as well. There are a few clever references (aside from the three-breasted prostitute, I won't spoil them for you), but one scene in particular really sold it for me. Quaid and Melina (Biel) are attempting to leave Quaid's other self's apartment building only to find Woodbine's Harry standing there, with a metric butt-ton of robots and cops. Here he combines the character of Harry from the original and the supposed Rekall guy who 'patches himself into Quaid's memory.' If you've seen the original, you know how it shakes out, but this is one scene I thought really rose above its source material. It was tense as hell and Woodbine knocked it out of the park.
Outside of the things it has going for it, Recall does fall a little flat. Its third act goes the way many modern action movies do, and sacrifices what brains it has for explosions and all-out action. It's not a bad thing, per se, but it didn't do any favors. Also, it could've just been exhaustion, but about an hour and ten minutes into the movie, I felt like I'd been on there forevvvvvver. Again, not a bad thing, but I shouldn't have to check my watch during a movie. Another big problem I had was that while the lack of Mars didn't bother me, the lack of mutants did. The quality of prosthetics in the original film is awesome and it really made me hate the CGI abusive that is so prevalent in today's cinema. So instead of having a reason for a three-breasted woman telling you that you'll wish you had three hands, you're left wondering, "Hey, why exactly did that woman have three breasts? Also, why in God's name are they assualting me with dubstep right now? It's like, 2084. Is that stuff really what they'd play in an Austrailian red light district?"
I think, in the end, the biggest difference between this and its predecessor is Quaid's charisma. I didn't realize it until about 3:00 AM this morning, but holy crap is Arnold Schwarzenegger charismatic. Something about his performance in the original really nails it. I really get now why he was in such high demand twenty years ago. Farrell's performance was not bad by any stretch, but it was certainly devoid of the sheer amount of goofy charisma Arnie oozed all over the place.
Total Recall is not a bad movie. It is not as good as its source material, but it is also different enough to stand on its own. While not the best sci-fi movie out this year, it is definitely not the worst. Also, there's a three-breasted prostitute and two sexy woman spending the better half of the movie beating each other up. If they need more than that to put butts in seats, I don't know if I want to live on this world anymore.