Tuesday, August 7, 2012

'Total Recall' Review - A Slick, More Serious Take on the Phillip K. Dick Story

When it was announced that 'Total Recall', the 1990 action film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, was going to be made, many were very upset by the thought. But I was actually excited by the idea As fun as Arnold's movie may be, it's not exactly how I imagined "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale", the Phillip K. Dick short story the movie was based on, being. So for me, this was a chance for the movie to return the roots of the story and start again. And while they're very similar movies, the new version of 'Total Recall' goes for a more serious take on the material, and I think it works in the film's favor. The film, directed by Len Wiseman ('Live Free or Die Hard, 'Underworld') and starring Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale, Bill Nighy, and Bryan Cranston is not only a visual treat, but it's a fun take on the material that put a smile on my face from ear to ear from beginning to end.

Doug Quaid (Farrell) is a mild mannered factory worker who isn't terribly happy with how his life has turned out. While he's married to the woman of his dreams, Lori (Kate Beckinsale), he can't help but feel there's more to life than what he has. They live in a rundown apartment in The Colony, one of the two only inhabitable places left on the planet. Not helping matters, he's having a recurring nightmare where he's some sort of secret agent, and he and some woman (Jessice Biel) are being chased through a building, where he is captured and taken away by a group of cops. Doug decides that he'll go to a Rekall clinic and get some new memories, making is life a little more exciting. But when a simple trip to Rekall turns into a hellish nightmare of gunfire, Doug doesn't know what to do. But is the shootout real, or is it all in his mind inside the Rekall clinic? Suddenly, Doug's world is turned upside down, and he's not sure what's real, and what's Recall.

There was one thing out the gate I was really excited about with this movie, and that was seeing Colin Farrell back as a leading man, and he did not disappoint. I've been a big fan for a long time, so I was excited to see him coming back for a big budget action film where he could be the star. He's really good as Doug, the man who's life is falling apart around him. For me, I could believe he was a man who had no idea if he was a secret agent or not. The moment things go wrong inside Rekall, you can really feel his confusion and panic as he finds himself in the middle of this gunfight. Farrell plays the role perfectly from there on out, and I couldn't help but feel for him. He wanted nothing more than to have his life back the way it was, but to have it all taken out from under you in one swoop, and now to be unsure if it was real or not, that'll mess with your mind, and that's what is so perfect about his performance. Farrell plays it well, and it doesn't seem forced. He really got into the character, something I'm very glad to see, and gave it his all. But he's not the only one I enjoyed in this. I was rather taken with Jessica Biel's character of Melina. I thought she was really good as Doug's friend and partner, the one guiding him through this nightmare. I liked the chemistry between the two, and I could believe there was an actual relationship there between the two, something that's very important to make me care about what's happening. Biel has come a long way since I saw her on '7th Heaven' years ago, and it's great to see her not only really utilizing her acting skills, but getting to be in a big budget film like this as a leading lady. 

I enjoyed Kate Beckinsale in the film as well, as the character Lori. She was a good foil for Doug and Melina, and she milks the scenes she's in for all they're worth. I just wish she had had a little more to do other than just the bad guy, because there was a moment where I thought we might see a more sympathetic side from her, but it never materialized. And then there's Bryan Cranston, who absolutely kills as McClane, the big bad guy who is bent on invading The Colony and destroying it. It doesn't matter what Cranston does, he's gold in it. He was definitely having fun while he was filming this, which is blatantly clear. He just chews up his scenes, and is a bit over the top, and I couldn't get enough of it. This year seems to be the year of Cranston, with him popping up in so many movies, and I for one couldn't be happier. Bill Nighy has a small part, but sadly, he's underused and we don't get to see him much. That was a great shame, because I love Nighy, and I think his presence could have added more to the film.

Len Wiseman's direction, as always, is competent. He's not doing anything to set himself aside from other directors, other than maybe the bluish tint that seems to be present in all his films, and in a way, that sort of hinders him. I liked all the action scenes in the movie, particularly the first gun fight, one inside the elevator shafts of an apartment complex, and the whole last twenty minutes or so. But there isn't anything that really sets his action scenes apart from any other action director like James Mangold or Justin Lin. I thought he did a much better job of that in 'Live Free or Die Hard' than he did here. Again, that's not saying his action scenes are bad, far from it. I just wish they had a more personal feel to them. That said, I love the visualization of his future in the film. I love the mix of 'Blade Runner' and 'Minority Report' that the film has, which makes it a visual treat. I couldn't help but be in awe of how The Colony and The United Federation of Britain look. It was visual eye candy, at least for me. 

The one thing I find interesting is that while the first film really plays with the idea of what's real and what's recall, this one doesn't play with that as much. Here, it's still a focus of course, but it's a lot less mind bendy here. And I actually like that more. The idea that there really is a reality to everything that's happening adds more to the movie for me, because it means there are more stakes to everything. 

While 'Total Recall' may not be perfect, it's still a solidly entertaining and fun film that really takes 'We Remember It For You Wholesale' in a different direction. While both it and the original version are similar, they are two completely different styles and tones, which really makes them different movies. Bolstered by a strong cast led by Colin Farrell, 'Total Recall' is exactly what I was hoping it would be and more. With a more grounded and less over the top take on the story, this one stands out and works better for me. I'm very curious to see what the Director's cut version will like look when it comes out on blu-ray. 

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