Monday, August 06, 2012

Total Recall / *** (PG-13)

Douglas Quaid: Colin Farrell
Lori Quaid: Kate Beckinsale
Melina: Jessica Biel
Cohaagen: Bryan Cranston
Harry: Bokeem Woodbine
Mathias: Bill Nighy
McClane: John Cho

Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Len Wiseman. Written by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback. Based on a screen story by Ronald Shusett & Dan O’Bannon and Jon Povill and Wimmer. Inspired by the short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick. Running time: 118 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity, and language).

“We can rebuild him. We have the technology… Better than before. Better. Stronger. Faster.”
            —Opening lines to the television series “The Six Million Dollar Man”.

Why am I quoting a television show that has nothing to do with a 22-year old science fiction camp classic that has just been remade? Because it holds some truth about why sometimes a remake is necessary. At the time of its release, the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle “Total Recall” was a phenomenon. I didn’t see the movie in theaters and didn’t catch up to it for a few years. When I did, I was shocked to look back at how popular it was, because it was so very bad. So, when it was announced that a remake of the movie based on Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”, it really could only have been an improvement.

Gone are the silly Schwarzenegger one-liners. Gone are the bulging eyeballs. Gone is the ridiculous character of Kuato. Even Mars is only mentioned in passing. This new version is an even looser telling of Dick’s story than the original, but at least it isn’t laughable.

In 2084, the third World War has devastated almost the entire planet. Only two habitable regions remain, the United Federation of Britain in Western Europe and The Colony in the area the used to be Australia. The Colony is subservient to the UFB and sends workers there via The Fall, a superspeed giant elevator that travels through the Earth’s core.

Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell, “Fright Night”) is one of those workers. He feels he’s missing something out of life. He has a beautiful wife (Kate Beckinsale, “Underworld: Awakening”) and a good friend (Bokeem Woodbine, “Devil”), but something doesn’t feel right to him. In his dreams he’s running from authorities with another woman (Jessica Biel, “The A-Team”). He decides to visit a memory creation company called Rekall to install memories of an exotic life as a spy. When they’re prepping him, the technicians discover that those memories already exist and before he knows what’s happening Quaid is on the run from authorities. After the woman from his dreams shows up to save him, he realizes he has no idea who he really is?

There are some political themes involved as a terrorist organization has been bombing public places in the UFB. The elusive Mathias (Bill Nighy, “Underworld” series) runs the revolutionaries. Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston, “Drive”) of the UFB plans an invasion of The Colony to put an end to the terrorist attacks. Like most good sci-fi, the terrorism storyline speaks to current events in our world. The screenplay doesn’t dwell too heavily on the parallels, but the impression is made.

The direction by Len Wiseman (the “Underworld” series) is top notch in the action department. The chase sequences, including foot chases and a wonderful car chase that shows us the full potential of the future of magnetic propulsion, are exquisitely choreographed and photographed. Patrick Tatopoulos’s production design steals from previous Philip K. Dick inspired productions “Blade Runner” and “Minority Report”. The result is an impressive looking action thriller that delivers.

Where the production falls short is in the science fiction arena. The screenwriters never really play with the question of whether the reality that Quaid is experiencing is really happening or is it a memory created by Rekall. It seems to me this should be the primary question raised by the story. Instead, the filmmakers seem to have accepted that the reality they are showing us is Quaid’s real experience. This takes some of the mystery away from Dick’s story.

Despite the fact that some levels of Dick’s original story are never really explored here, Wiseman and the rest of the filmmakers have put together an exciting science fiction based action thriller. It isn’t really a thinking man’s science fiction. It’s more of a sci-fi lite, but it is effective as a thriller and very well executed as an action film. It will please audiences looking for something to cool their brains as this hot summer comes to a close.

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