Total Recall (2012)
Director: Len Wiseman
Starring: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston
Review: 2.5 stars (of five)
Total Recall looks fantastic, but a stupid and uncreative story all but obliterates an attractive cast, amazing world design, and creative flourishes of action. It’s a film that steals a number of visual elements from Blade Runner, and is similarly a loose adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story, and similarly plays with elements of identity, of what makes us what we are, but utterly fails to actually engage with that potential in an interesting way.
That’s the movie’s first failure: to have an idea, a philosophy, a thought-provoking something to elevate the thriller violence. The second failure is that the violence itself becomes tedious. Yes, Len Wiseman (Live Free or Die Hard, some percentage of those Underworld horrors) delivers a few bits here that are really sharp. But so much of the action sequences are just ceaseless hails of bullets that it all becomes a noisy bore. If I had a dollar for every time Colin Farrell jumps off a high thing while dodging a spray of automatic gunfire, I’d have enough money to make a better version of this movie myself. So the film doesn’t make me think and it doesn’t hold my attention with its nearly nonstop chase/shootout sequences.
The cast is pretty all right, but they certainly can’t transcend the flat, soulless script. Colin Farrell carries the film well enough, but he’s got so little to work with when he’s not running away from bullets. His ally is Jessica Biel, who’s gorgeous in a way that’s slightly alien, and human in a way that’s slightly wooden. His key antagonist, along with a million stormtrooper robots, is Kate Beckinsale, wife of the director.
Wiseman has made a career of turning his wife into a violence fetish object, and he doesn’t let up here. Beckinsale gets one scene as a generic, underdefined wife before the switch to spyworld turns her into a relentless antagonist, a coldly beautiful cross between Darth Vader and an AK-47. She glowers and pursues, and apparently keeps touching up her pink lipstick off-camera.
The backgrounds, the setting, that’s the only thing here that’s an absolute pleasure. Much of the film is a rainy neo-Asia (see Blade Runner), and it’s also a gloomy techno-industrial city that’s … if the Coruscant of George Lucas’ prequels is like a future Metropolis, this film’s tomorrow Australia is a future Gotham. Great stuff to look at, and quickly one realizes that the film’s overall visual language and design sense are a Frankenstein hybrid of Blade Runner, the Star Wars prequels and Minority Report.
I have a whole bit about how this film feints at the idea that this whole thing is a dream driven by Farrell being unsatisfied with his marriage to Beckinsale, thus turning her into this gunmetal fashion model, and how that would’ve made a much better movie, but … too much effort.
This film is good for viewers who like cold, beautiful people, sci-fi urban design, and gunfire. This film is bad for people who like emotion, intellect, theme or pacing. Which kind of viewer are you?