Ok, enough of this esoteric, weirdass Fantasia stuff, let’s review something mainstream, starring big name actors and with a budget that could feed a small country for a year. Something commercial, something unoriginal, something generally kind of crap.
What’s this? A multi-million dollar remake of an 90s Schwarzenegger movie? Well, I dunno, who directed the original? Paul Verhoeven! Does the remake retain even the merest hint of Verhoeven’s trademark satire and irony, trading subversion and social commentary in for a generic, uninspired script shot with all the bad habits of modern film making?
Yeah, I do enjoy asking stupid questions, why do you ask?
So Total Recall then. The original is one of those fun 80s/90s action movies that embraces complete sillyness and seems in hindsight to be making fun of itself half the time, no surprise it came courtesy of Paul Verhoeven, who also brought us Robocop and Starship Troopers. And why yes both of those movies are also slated for upcoming remakes. And no, I’m not bitter about the Robocop one, not at all.
So does the new remake, directed by Len Wiseman and starring Colin Farrel, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel and Bryan Cranston manage to surpass the original?
Ok, I’ll stop asking stupid questions, I promise.
So in the far-flung future, most of Earth’s surface has become uninhabitable, with only the wealthy and corrupt United Federation of Britain and dirt-poor but good-spirited Colony left, linked by a colossal elevator running directly through the planet called The Fall. Farrel plays the roll previously occupied by the gorvernator, working class joe Douglas Quaid. In an attempt to escape the drudgery of his life, Quaid goes to Recall, a facility that can implant new and exciting memories in your brain for a modest fee. It should be noted, incidentally, that Quaid is married to Kate Beckinsale. In the original he was married to Sharon Stone, so I suppose one of the things that carries over from the original is that Quaid feels he needs to escape from being married to women who look like supermodels.
But just as Quaid is about to receive new memories of being a secret agent, it turns out he really IS a secret agent who had been implanted with false memories for what turns out to be an incredibly contrived set of reasons and goes on a globe-spanning adventure, hooking up with anti-government rebels and uncovering a plan to invade The Colony with an army of robots to solve a crippling land shortage for the rich people.
What really sets the new film apart from the old one is that while the old film, like most of Verhoeven’s sci-fi movies, went about things with a sense of ironic, zany fun, the new one takes its’ equally ludicrous sci-fi concepts completely and utterly seriously. Because you can totally have a movie where mankind has created an elevator that goes through the fucking planet like a piercing through a rebellious teenager’s nipple and not ever step back and go “Wait, this is kinda silly.” Well, you can if you’re dumb and boring, anyway.
But that’s really not the only thing setting them apart, and for all intents and purposes this is less of a remake and more of a totally new movie, leaving only the barest plot concepts, character names and a few plot beats intact. Oh, and a hooker with three breasts, of course.
Like all diligent remakes, the new film contains a healthy number of shout-outs to the old, but more often than not they seem like bizarre non-sequiters, the three-breasted hooker being the prime example. In the original film the three-breasted hooker sorta made sense because rampant mutation was a large part of the plot, so it sorta made sense as a part of the world. And by “it” I mean the three-breasted hooker, and why can’t I stop saying that??
But when she shows up in the new one it seems especially bizarre, justified only by an incredibly brief implication that that particular part of town has a penchant for extreme body modification. And then she disappears, leaving confusion and half-chubbies in her wake, never to be seen or hinted at again.
For one, the plot is a mish-mash of coincidences, contrivances and…something else negative that starts with C, I don’t know. I poked at the whole planet elevator thing before but that doesn’t really bug me. This is science-fiction, throw whatever zany shit you want in there. But riddle me this: how come the band of anti-government rebels Quaid meets up with live out in the badlands with no trouble, getting by with some gas masks and underground tunnels?
Are we to believe that this scrappy bunch of rebels have figured out how to live more or less comfortably in the supposedly uninhabitable wastelands, but the government that put a damn elevator through the Earth’s core needs to come up with an incredibly expensive and overly-complicated plan just to secure more living space?
The cast isn’t much to write home about either. Farrel isn’t exactly bad, but isn’t as interesting to watch as Ahnold was. Beckinsale does a little better in a villainous role than I would have expected, though Biel is a total non entity. Bryan Cranston, as expected, is the standout, managing to hold the camera well, and if you ever get bored you can just squint and pretend you’re watching Drive or a very surreal episode of Malcolm in the Middle.
Finally, the film seems jam-packed with all the worst habits modern films have picked up. We got shakey camera, lens flair out the butt, a generic orchestral soundtrack. You couldn’t film a more painfully contemporary movie if you tried. And I know that makes me sound like a pretentious classicist, I meant it that way.
There are good remakes. Hell, there are great remakes. The Thing, The Fly, they’re out there. Total Recall isn’t one of them. It’s generic, it’s dumb, it’s honestly boring. And how in God’s good name can a movie with a three-breasted hooker be boring?!