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August 11, 2012


Capsule Movie Review – Total Recall (2012)


Like the 1990 Verhoeven/Schwarzenegger movie of the same title, Total Recall takes as its starting point the Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.” The premise: An ordinary man with a boring life goes to a shop selling “memories” that are better than the real thing. Adventure follows, but is it real? The dystopian setting is handsomely rendered, albeit highly derivative of Blade Runner by way of Minority Report. Colin Farrell plays the hero on a head trip, and his performance carries the movie as far as acting alone can carry it- namely, pretty far but short of the finish line. Less is more in action movies is a maxim too often observed in the breach in big-budget Hollywood product. Essentially a two hour chase, Total Recall is fun until it isn’t. The filmmakers confuse futuristic high-tech with license for escalating physical unreality. What would fly in a tale of cyborgs, androids, or what-have-you enhanced humans doesn’t fly without that precondition. The chief pursuer (played by Kate Beckinsale) in particular, is supposedly human but in fundamentals more closely resembles the T-1000 of Terminator 2. Of course, that could be taken as evidence that it’s all in his head. So could the love interest’s (Jessica Biel) lack of personality and the fact the villain’s plan doesn’t make sense. Lazy writing is the less charitable explanation. Occasional throwaway musings on the meaning of identity and memory notwithstanding, the existential dilemma is a gimmick in an over-extended shoot-em-up. This isn’t the first adaptation of a Dick story to founder on the freedom that comes with turning a clever conceit into a feature-length film.

2 stars

Double Feature It With… Minority Report for a double dose of Colin Farrell in Philip K. Dick-inspired movies that find their best scenes in flying car chases.

17 Comments Post a comment
  1. Aug 11 2012

    I can only hope that those that pair this film with Minority Report watch this film first, seeing that Minority Report is a masterpiece.

  2. Aug 11 2012

    I can’t agree with you on that one. It’s excellent in parts, but the plotting in the third act is really weak and the final disposition of the psychics is a cop out.

  3. Aug 11 2012

    Everyone complains about the third act but most of the dislikes tend to sound like “it just went on forever!”. I have no problem with destroying the system that was based entirely on lies, and letting the precogs go. Knowing that the Minority Reports exist and disbanding the Precrime Division, I find, is a nice end to things.

  4. Aug 12 2012

    The eyeball.

    I could say more, but that’s quite enough. (My criticism is of content not length.)

  5. Aug 12 2012

    Oh, having his eyes replaced? That was awesome!

  6. Aug 12 2012

    No, no, I don’t object to that part (aside from the ick factor). I refer to the pivotal role the eyeball plays in the plot after being separated from his body.

  7. Aug 12 2012

    You mean Cruise chasing his eyeballs and catching them before they falls down the drain? If so, that was hilarious.

  8. Aug 13 2012

    Again, no. What’s really funny is you don’t even remember the part of the movie I hated the most. ^_^

    No need to fixate on the eyeball though, as there are a lot of things I dislike about the third act, and especially about the “happy” ending. It’s not a movie I want to revisit any further.

  9. Aug 13 2012

    I’d watched it many times, each time picking up more awesome insights. The cinematography alone is masterful, as expected from Spielberg.

    But now I’m curious about the scene that you’re referring to!

  10. Aug 13 2012

    Everything about how his wife gets it and uses it.

    Let’s turn to a fun topic TOTAL RECALL inevitably brought to mind: Adaptations of Dick novels/stories. Best? Worst?

  11. Aug 13 2012

    The worst is Paycheck (what happened, John Woo?!) and the best is, obviously Blade Runner, which has almost nothing to do with the novel but was taken into an awesome direction. Over the years Blade Runner has become my second favourite film, right behind Lawrence of Arabia.

    Other terrible films that were adapted from K. Dick novels and short stories are Screamers (1995) and Next (2007). But the best exact-page-to-screen adaptation is A Scanner Darkly. :O)

  12. Aug 14 2012

    Terrible script, Ben Affleck as the star, Uma Thurman phoning it in- PAYCHECK was doomed from the get-go. IMPOSTER was no great shakes either, but too lackluster to get worked up over.

    BLADE RUNNER is the best, definitely. Haven’t watched A SCANNER DARKLY yet (I know, I know- what am I waiting for?!).

  13. Aug 14 2012

    Actually, take your time. It’ll wait for you. :O)

    Blade Runner is beyond classic, it has transcended from film to God. That’s right: Blade Runner is a God! And the book, also is fantastic. A true classic.

    There are rumors that another K. Dick adaptation is in the works and it’s for “Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said”. I’d recently read it a few months ago and within a few chapters had understood why it’s one of his best, award winning novels. If a film is to be made, the screenwriter better be careful because the product that’s currently on the page is amazing.

    I forgot about Impostor! Actually, I didn’t but like you said it it’s too lackluster be get worked up over. It’s not a horrible film film, it’s just bad and is terribly predictable. Another film that’s similar and ultimately better is The 6th Day (2000), and it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger. :O)

  14. Michelle
    Aug 14 2012

    I’d worship at the temple of Blade Runner any day, Nir. :) I just finished the book and loved it as well.

  15. Aug 15 2012

    @Michelle, I might just start construction of the temple.. Also, I love Deckard’s encounter with Batty in the book. :O)

    And another K. Dick novel that I highly recommend is Dr. Bloodmoney.

  16. Aaron
    Sep 4 2012

    I really liked Minority Report! I loved how it was based on the Oedipus story.

  17. Sep 4 2012

    The film or the short story? Because I don’t remember seeing Tom Cruise try to kill his father in order to marry his mother…