Total Recall Review: O, Michael Bay, Where Art Thou?

The day to day imagination isn’t so fanciful.

And so we’ve come to another movie remake; one based on a movie that isn’t even twenty-five years old, and also one based on a story by noted sci-fi author Phillip K. Dick (We’ll Remember It For You Wholesale, if you’re curious). So, what one would hopefully expect to see, is a successful combination of the original Total Recall, and the sort of philosophic bent that recent movies based on stories by Dick and other noted sci-fi authors have taken, in addition to the regular summer blockbuster expectations.

But it doesn’t do any of that, except, maybe, the summer blockbuster part. So, instead of talking about a movie that has nothing to do with this one, I’d like to bring up a movie from ten years ago. Remember Phone Booth? The movie that made Colin Farrell famous and more than just another face in the crowd? It was a smart thriller: tightly written, with a good concept and interesting dialogue, as well as a strikingly good fashion sense. It was a good use of acting talent and had action, but not too much to distract from the focus on the plot. Frankly, reminiscing on that movie makes me realize how much plot and dialogue matters in movies. It’s more than the directors and the camera men deciding how things should be shot, how they should look. And it’s definitely more than the actors acting out the lines. It’s about the quality of the script in both a macro and micro sense. And, also about how the characters and distinct moments are recognized and remembered.

I bring this up because this new Total Recall doesn’t just star Farrell, but other recognizable names like Kate Beckensdale, Jessica Biel, and Bryan Cranston in some significant supporting and leading roles. Fantastic, you might think. This is a pretty A-list cast! And they make the best of what they have, you know? None of them really act badly in this film. However, the script doesn’t have the sort of writing that leaves an impression on you, and the general plot is really just “how do we get from this chase scene to this explosion to this next chase to this visually exciting sequence here?” It exploits the interesting ideas of the world it’s set in and craps them out in the most uninteresting ways.

Admittedly, the multi-tiered car chase was interesting…at first.

It’s like the writers threw a bunch of ideas into the Big Budget Blender, and poured out the results onto the pages of the script. Big explosions, post apocalyptic environment disaster, the plot of the Bourne movies, dubstep, political intrigue; it’s all here and it’s all mixed up, with a bunch of filler toppings to create a soupy mess that is like a representation of every action movie in the last ten years, but delicious to nobody except, maybe, the people that wrote it.

The basic plot of the movie involves Doug Quaid (Farrell), a factory man living the sameday, everyday, who grows tired of the monotony and seeks to have a thrilling alternative life thanks to ReKall. ReKall, which claims to give people artificial memories based on whatever they want, is rumored to lobotomize people and is sleazy enough to be held above a dance club that wouldn’t be out of place in today’s world, but that doesn’t bother Doug. He just wants to make these dreams he’s had, where he feels like he’s doing something important, feel real. He starts the process and, unsurprisingly, things go wrong.

Throughout the movie, the obvious question that arises in the viewer’s mind should be “is this all part of the new memories? Or is it real?” And indeed, the movie includes a scene that questions this very concern. But, in an act of defiance, the movie refuses to answer it then, and you’re left wondering. Aside from that, the movie doesn’t dare to delve into psychological babble that could possibly put more time in between the next chase sequence and the next big explosion. In the same way that I, Robot was too heavy-handed in its psychological and philosophical undertones (some would say it shoved them down our collective throats), Total Recall is too subtle. Perhaps even contradictory in what it wants. It leaves it to the viewer to think of the underlying concepts at play, but then seeks to distract them with more explosions before they stray too far from what’s going on. Likely to keep them occupied from figuring out it’s a bad movie and realizing that there are plenty of media that navigate these themes with greater success.

Sadly, Bryan Cranston’s performance does little more than make you wish he had better lines.

I can’t recall how many times I yawned during the movie. The story had no twist to speak of, or at least, they telegraphed them so much that the twists were completely unsurprising. It’s as if they didn’t want to trouble the audience with the unpredictable because- hey, is that an explosion?

The acting was nothing to speak of, the locales were cliché of the “futuristic sci fi setting”, the music was typical Harry Gregson-Williams to a fault, characters launch asinine gambits to get the upper hand of each other, and yes, the explosions are gigantic. It’s a typical summer blockbuster movie – and the worst kind at that. It doesn’t seek to justify itself or seem intelligent or meaningful in any way, when it clearly had enough material to play with our minds to at least the level of Inception.

If I had to pick one scene to summarize the movie, it’d be the very first one, which is a chase sequence, that might be plot important, but I’m not sure. I was actually distracted during most of the scene thanks to a very annoying strobe light that kept flashing throughout the entire scene. It was so prevalent, I felt like I had to focus on it, and that’s bad. A movie that would rather you focus on the rapid flashing of a damaged florescent light than even a chase sequence goes to show what the makers of this movie thought of the viewers that came to watch it: as stupid, bored masses who can’t even pay attention for five seconds unless something’s blown up or constantly shining so they can draw their eyes to it like moths to a flame and be amazed. It’s sad; insulting even. But it does make those who avoid it take pride in realizing that a movie that makes sure its audience isn’t bored within the first five minutes will likely end up boring them long before its over.

But, what do you expect? It’s just – OH HEY! EXPLOSIONS!!!

1 star out of 5