Movie Review: Total Recall (2012)

By Melinda VanLone | Movie Review

Aug 10

Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessical Biel

My thoughts as I left to see this movie: “oh I hope they don’t screw it up.”

My thoughts as I returned: “They ruined it!”

Fair disclosure: I’m a huge fan of the original. The characters were fantastic and larger than life (Ahnold!), the setting was exotic (Mars, in the future no less), they had strong, powerful female leads, the plot had twisty turny mind games (derived from the short story on which it’s based), and the dialogue was snappy and fun.

This re-boot? It’s the exact opposite. My husband explained it in one sentence: “It’s as if they took an ice cream scoop, dipped out some of the plot from the original, and wrapped it in Transformers special effects.” He didn’t mean that in a good way. He meant that they’d sacrificed any real story in order to throw in explosions and effects.

By far the coolest part of this movie was the gadgets. Who wouldn’t want a phone implanted in your hand? All you do is hold your hand up to your ear, or if you want video, hold it up to any piece of glass. Any at all. I need one of those! I’d never lose my phone, which would be a giant plus. No more fussing about where to carry it, either. Although it’s a bit clunky to have that technology and still have to hold your hand up to your ear to hear the person if you don’t have glass near-by. Why wouldn’t you just implant a speaker near your ear canal? But I digress.

All the fancy gadgets didn’t make up for the essential pieces of story which were flat out missing, though. I’m not talking about making it exactly like the original. I’m talking about fundamental story. I saw no logic behind the world building. It makes no sense to me that one giant, all powerful “country” would have left one tiny geographic spot to operate on its own for any length of time at all.

It makes no sense that the only way to travel is by “The Fall” (although I thought the mechanism for it was awesome…falling through the center of the Earth? Way cool.) The antagonists need to invade that one tiny section of the planet made no sense and wasn’t believable. And if that isn’t believable, the rest falls apart. It also made no sense that the entire resistance was housed on that one tiny geographic spot, rather than being sprinkled throughout the globe. Even in our own times, there are terrorists everywhere, in every walk of life, in every country, on every continent. Terrorists, or freedom fighters, don’t usually contain themselves in a neat little package ready to be invaded.

It drove me crazy that the two actresses, one playing the “wife” and one playing the supposed girlfriend freedom fighter, looked so much alike. I could not tell them apart, and was often confused about who was doing what.

I missed some of the great dialogue of the first one. Some of my favorite lines were flat out missing. Like “Consider that a divorce.” They never said it! Why they gave a nod to the three-breasted prostitute (which, in this world also makes no sense because there are no mutants), but not that classic line, I don’t know.

The one line I liked out of the entire movie:

“Never underestimate the power of one man.”

Profound. Love it.

The rest? A whiney, weak man who can’t remember who he is reacts to things around him but never acts on his own, while a wimpy girl (yes I know she fights here and there but overall they made her weak) follows him around but never quite leads the way, while a supposed killer hunts them down but at no time did I think she was actually capable of killing them. In a story like this I expect the antagonist to be larger than life, more powerful than the hero in almost every way, and I just never got that feeling. They tried to convey it by making Doug and Melina weak. It didn’t work. You can’t make the antagonist appear strong simply by making the hero look weak. Like real life, trying to make those around you appear small does not make you look large by comparison.

I was most disappointed with what they did with the characters themselves. The mystic leader of the revolution? He could have been made from cardboard and had almost no role in the story. If you took him out, the story wouldn’t change. I missed the mutants and the psychics. The big bad guy? His motives made no sense to me. The henchmen? Robots (literally). Which, frankly, has been done so often it’s trite and tired. The hero? Never really displayed any kind of inner strength. Or, really, any outer strength. Yes, I know he spent a great deal of time fighting, but it all felt so contrived and manufactured. Melina? She had no inner strength either.

I don’t blame the actors. I think they did a fine job with what they had. I think the characterizations were done deliberately by the director. Make the protagonists appear weak so the antagonist doesn’t have to work so hard. Oh, and since it’s an action flick, stick in all the obligatory scenes: Car chase? Check. Run across roof tops? Check. Dive down a shaft or elevator? Check. Fight in a large space, then a small one, have a cat fight, and then shoot some innocent people? Check check check check. Oh, and periodically blow some stuff up, because 18 year old boys dig that stuff.

Check.

If you are an 18 year old boy (probably up to the age of 25 or even 30), you’ll probably like this. Things explode, guns are shot, fights ensue, and women are wearing tight outfits. If you are expecting a good story, it’s sadly been decapitated, disemboweled, and flayed. But hey, they do explode things.

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