The saddest thing about a movie like Total Recall is to see so much talent, energy, and dough-re-mi has gone into what winds up being a simple chase movie. At the least the original had a balance of silliness and violence that kept you on your toes. That’s what’s wrong with so many big cartoon movies like this: they come into the theaters dripping with pretension. A movie like Batman, Spider-Man, Total Recall, etc. is fundamentally a carnival ride for the eyes. But even if the movie-makers agreed, they’d have to give us new thrills. What we get here are the same old thrills. The synthetic cops look like second-cousins to Darth Vader’s storm troopers. The vertical city looks like a cross between the worlds of Blade Runner and Minority Report. In fact, at one point, I think I even saw the billboard that is a critical element of MR. Is that a case of homage or let’s-just-see-what-we’ve-got-in-the-warehouse? Even the Inception trombones have been pressed into service again.
We know the story, if not from the original short story (Philip K. Dick‘s “We Can Dream It for You Wholesale”) then from the original movie and if not from the original movie, then from the trailer for this one, which gives the whole game away. So why does it take so long for poor Colin Farrell to figure out what’s happened to him?
The movie’s big question is about identity. Who am I really? The bored factory worker? The legendary freedom fighter? Or someone else? But like most big dumb movies, this one has only a flicker of an idea, to give the characters something to talk about between chases.
There’s a long tradition of this kind of movie–the normal person who wakes up to the fact that he or she’s actually a spy with mad skills and a license to kill. (Can anyone say “Bourne”?) For my money, the best in the genre is Geena Davis‘s The Last Good Kiss. (“Chef’s do that!”)
Colin Farrell, a fine actor, does a creditable job in the lead with a combination of vulnerability and chop-socky smarts. But the best performance is by Kate Beckwith, who plays his wife. In the original movie, if I remember correctly, the character has a brief, surprising scene. Here she’s the hero’s non-stop nemesis with a combination of menace, coquetry, and pure pissed-offedness.
The city, too, is an elaborately realized look at a world where space is at a premium, with skyscrapers and elevated highways stacked on top of each other. The movie has two major chases–one on top of and inside flying cars and the other on top of and inside flying elevators. They play out a little too much like a three-dimensional game of Frogger, though the elevator chase is more inventive.
The movie gives us better digital effects than the original, but you can’t help asking why someone thought this trip was necessary.