Total Recall

There are a few memories I’d love to have banished from my brain.  One in particular causes me a fair amount of guilt when it pops up from time to time.  It involves a young woman I dated briefly in high school.  On our first date, we kissed for several minutes in the front seat of my car as we sat in the driveway of her home.  I got caught up in the moment and, even though I wasn’t really very attracted to her, I did enjoy the kissing and the attention she paid to me.  We went out a few more times after that but each time I felt more and more trapped.  It also didn’t help that I had feelings for a girl I worked with at my part-time grocery store job.  After one particularly awkward date, I told this young woman that I didn’t think we should see each other anymore because I liked someone else.  I thought it would be better to tell her directly and get it over with rather than string her along and let the relationship slowly sputter and die.  I underestimated how this young lady felt and I heard through the grapevine that she was very hurt by my rejection.  Even though this happened over 30 years ago, when I think about it to this day I feel like a complete jerk.  I’d be willing to pay to have that bit of history wiped from my memory.  In this week’s movie, “Total Recall,” you can pay to have memories implanted that makes your dull life seem like an adventure, or to have your adventurous life seem common and mundane.  Just be careful and keep track of what’s real and what’s Rekall.

Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) lives the dull life of a factory worker, living with his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) in what’s left of civilization after a world war left most of the planet uninhabitable.  There are only two livable zones left:  The United Federation of Britain, or UFB, made up of the British Isles and parts of Western Europe, and the Colony which is the island nation of Australia.  Led by Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), the UFB is over populated but is where most of the industry and jobs are.  The workers live in the Colony and ride a massive transport shuttle to and from the UFB called the Fall, that has been bored through the center of the planet.  Tensions are high between the UFB and the Colony and a separatist movement led by Matthias (Bill Highy) encourages workers to fight against the oppression of the UFB.  Several terrorist bombings are blamed on the separatists leading to an increase in production of robotic guards at the plant where Doug works.  Looking to escape the grind of his everyday life and the nightmares he has every night of being chased by armed guards, trying to escape with a young woman named Melina (Jessica Biel), Doug goes to Rekall, a company that implants realistic memories of exciting lifestyles into the minds of clients.  As he’s prepared for the procedure, security forces burst in and kill all the technicians.  As they prepare to take him into custody, Doug instinctively uses advanced combat techniques to disarm and kill all the guards.  Running for home, Doug tells Lori what happened.  At first, she’s sympathetic but then turns a reassuring hug into an attempt to kill Doug.  She tells him they aren’t really married, she’s only known him six weeks and everything he thinks he knows about his life is a lie.  Escaping from Lori and the guards she calls in, Doug manages to use the Fall to get to the UFB where he’s challenged at the security checkpoint.  Doug gets to the street where he’s picked up by Melina who, he’s surprised to discover, is real.  She knows him as Hauser, a UFB operative who switched sides and began working with the resistance.  Understandably, Doug/Hauser is very confused over what is reality and what is fantasy.
“Total Recall” is a remake of the 1990 film of the same name that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone.  Both movies are loosely based on the Phillip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.”  While the special effects in the 1990 movie are rather dated and, in one particularly memorable scene with Schwarzenegger suffocating on the surface of Mars, laughable, that film had a very well thought out story.  The same cannot be said for this modern version and strays even further from the original source material.
The good news is the action scenes in the new “Total Recall” are tense, frenetic and rather brilliant.  A chase across the rooftops and through the skylights of a densely packed urban environment is a masterpiece of stunts and timing.  A car chase involving levitating cars that float over or are magnetically attached under a street is surprisingly exciting even if most of the action is computer generated.  Close quarters combat involving two fights in a multi-directional elevator is claustrophobic, but in a good way.  There are big stunts, big chases and big explosions throughout “Total Recall.”  In fact, action fans will probably love the film since the action scenes occupy at least half of the film’s running time.  And that’s the problem.
“Total Recall” is made up of long action set pieces interspersed with poorly thought out interactions between dull characters and a story that sometimes loses itself on the way to the next chase or fight.  While the film often has the look of Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” and at times wants to have the dense, pseudo-intellectual/philosophical dialog of “The Matrix” trilogy, it can only be a pale imitation of the best parts of those movies.  I had hoped for more since both the short story and original movie have so much potential of expansion on the unique and original ideas they are made from.  Instead, director Len Wiseman and screenwriters Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback take the lazy way out and let the action do all the heavy lifting.  Unfortunately, fights, shootouts and car chases can only convey so much of a story involving political intrigue, class struggles and exploitation.  While a fight between a robotic security guard and a flesh and blood person who helped assemble it could be considered a metaphor for the struggle between workers and management or people being displaced by technology, I doubt the average viewer will see it in those terms because it hasn’t been set up to convey anything other than action.  It also doesn’t help that all the characters are stock types that offer about as much of interest to the audience as a glass of room temperature water.  The only character who seems to be having fun is Kate Beckinsale’s Lori.  She seems to be having a blast with her evil smirks and pithy dialog.  Lori likes being a beautiful woman who can kick your butt with little trouble; but even this character begins to grate on the nerves after a few scenes of the same thing over and over.  Farrell plays Quaid/Hauser as a wide-eyed babe in the woods who has sudden flashes of self-defense brilliance but little else.  Biel’s Melina is earnest and serious but constantly needs saving, as all stereotypical action-movie heroines do.  None of the characters comes off as interesting or unique.  Fortunately for some of the actors, their characters aren’t on screen for too long before they die.
“Total Recall” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity and language.  There are many fights and shootings, one stabbing and assorted other violence.  There is very little gore and blood.  The sexual content is brief and consists mostly of Quaid walking past what looks like stripper bars with the silhouettes of women dancing provocatively.  The nudity is a brief view of a three-breasted prostitute.  Foul language is fairly common and is largely the “S-word.”
While emigrating to Mars is mentioned in this remake of “Total Recall,” we don’t get to travel to the red planet unlike the 1990 version.  A change of scenery couldn’t have hurt this film any more than the bad story and lackluster characters.  I would have even been thrilled with a brief Arnold Schwarzenegger cameo.  As it is, “Total Recall” is completely forgettable.
“Total Recall” gets two guitars out of five.
Four new films arrive at theatres this week.  Which one I see is up to you.  Vote on the next movie I review.
The Bourne Legacy—A story centered on a new CIA operative in the universe based on Robert Ludlum's novels.
The Campaign—When a long-term congressman commits a major public gaffe before an upcoming election, a pair of ultra-wealthy CEOs plot to put up a rival candidate and gain influence over their North Carolina district.
Hope Springs—After thirty years of marriage, a middle-aged couple attends an intense counseling weekend to decide the fate of their marriage.
Nitro Circus: The Movie 3D—Travis Pastrana and the whole Nitro Circus crew perform some of the most ridiculous, awe-inspiring, and simply insane stunts ever caught on camera.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any movie of his choice currently in theatres.
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
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