July 18, 2013

Total Recall

Colin Farrell, fresh off of his towering performance in the completely unnecessary remake of Fright Night, decided to take his career in a new direction by starring in the completely unnecessary remake of Total Recall.

The 2012 version of Total Recall is the answer to the question on nobody’s lips: What would it be like if a bunch of hacks shot Minority Report on the set of Blade Runner?

The makers of Another Damn Remake hope you haven’t seen the original film, since their film has the exact same plot. I kept waiting for the twists not to follow lockstep with the original, but such a moment never came. This is doubly mystifying since one of the strengths of the original was its mysterious plot. Who is Hauser? Can Quaid trust him? How and why did Hauser get replaced by Quaid? If I’m not me, then who the hell am I? What if your entire life was just an implanted memory? The answers to all these questions in the Total Recall remake are...exactly the same as they are in the original Total Recall. There's only one real plot change, and it renders the entire film pointless.

If you haven’t seen the original Total Recall, then you’re a bad person and also stupid and wrong. Go watch it four times before you come back to this review, because by giving away the plot of the remake, I’m giving away the plot of the original. The remake can go to Hell, but nobody hath committed so great a sin that she should be denied the spectacle of California's hulking Austrian bodybuilding former governor shouting “YOU BLEW MY COVAAAAHHH!” and “Gif dis peepal aiya!” Watch Total Recall, go on, do eet nao!

From this point forward, you’ve either seen the original Total Recall or you’re not reading this because you’re currently watching the original Total Recall, so I’m assuming you know the plot and characters already. So in the original, Hauser agreed to take on a false identity in order to find the leader of the Mars resistance, Kuato. This is necessary because Kuato is a mutant with the power to see through any deception. Thus, in order to reach Kuato and lead the bad guys to him, Hauser must “become” someone who is genuinely seeking him and doesn’t know he’s actually a secret agent for the other side. In the remake, there is no psychic. Hauser (Farrell) successfully penetrates the resistance as himself, but he betrays Cohaagen and goes over to the resistance. He is then captured by Cohaagen’s forces and implanted with the false identity of Douglas Quaid, and in the course of trying to get his original memories back, finds the resistance leader, only to be ambushed by Cohaagen’s forces who have been tracking him.

Um, why was Hauser given a new identity? The original Hauser got a new identity because he was actually working for Cohaagen and needed to hide this from Kuato’s powers. But remake Hauser isn’t working for Cohaagen because he genuinely changes sides, and there’s no psychic to ferret out his true motives anyway! So there’s no reason for him to be Quaid! Cohaagen could've tracked Hauser to the resistance leader exactly as he did without the false identity. Of course, if they’d done that, Quaid wouldn't have a wife to betray him and so the director couldn't put his own wife (Kate Beckinsale) in the movie like he always does.

Now I know who both Kate “Underworld” Beckinsale and Jessica “Next” Biel are, yet I didn’t realize either of them was in this movie until I saw the end credits because the movie's colors are so washed out that both actresses are unrecognizable. Beckinsale got the Evil Girl role so she could switch to her English accent upon being revealed as evil to satisfy the "the English are Evil" trope, and also to make herself instantly sexier. The original Total Recall was hardly revolutionary in terms of its plot or tropes, but still, it was nice that it had the blonde Sharon Stone (pre-Basic Instinct, natch) turn out to be evil and the brunette Rachel Ticotin be the good one. Ah, the 21st century, firmly rooted in the stereotypes of the 1930s; both female leads are safely white, and the American is good while the Englishwoman is evil. Now if they'd just made Cohaagen German....

Speaking of tropes and stereotypes, Bokeem Woodbine is on hand as Token Black Guy. He doesn’t Die First, but he does die, because really, you expected the black man to survive in a picture with a body count in the low hundreds? He turns out to be a bad guy because, well, the black guy in the original film turned out to be a bad guy, and this film is nothing if not a rote clone of its predecessor. Except, given that the remake is a 21st century film, the black guy is demoted to a meaningless part instead of playing a key role in the story as he did in the original.

The filmmakers seem to have taken “remake” a bit too literally. All they did was combine Michael Ironside’s Richter character with Quaid's double-agent wife character. (This is the movie’s sole right choice. Far be it for me to begrudge giving Ironside work, but the inclusion of Richter always struck me as the filmmakers’ chickening out of making Schwarzenegger's main opponent a dumb ol’ girl.) But the rest is beat for beat the same. Well, except the movie has nothing to do with Mars!

“Now wait just a damn minute, Carl Eusebius!” you ineffectually shout from your mother’s basement. “You just complained the remake was too slavish, and now you’re complaining it’s not slavish enough!” Well first of all, be glad I changed your gibberish into something comprehensible, since we both know you’re incapable of using grade 9 words like “slavish”. But, my drooling neanderthal friend, there are two things that make a Total Recall movie: one, it involves discovering that your entire life was merely an implanted identity and you're actually a secret agent, and two, it has to do with Mars. All you needed to do was have these two things in your Total Recall movie, and the rest was up to you. The jokers who shat out this turd kept all the same plot points (and I do mean all, including the “guy tells Quaid he’s still strapped into his chair at Rekall and this is all in his head” scene and the "gross removal of a tracking device from inside his body" scene) but jettisoned one of the two essential elements. It would be like rebooting Star Wars with the exact same characters and plot, only there's no mention of Jedi or the Force.

Take Battlestar Galactica, just about the best case for a re-make you can make. First, the original sucked donkey balls despite having a great concept, so there’s both a solid core to build on and plenty of improvements to make. Second, the original BSG screamed ‘70s, its futuristic setting notwithstanding, and so is laughably dated. Third, the original BSG was created by a complete hack and re-imagined by a genuine talent. Total Recall fails on all counts, since the original is pretty good and doesn’t come across as notably dated. And its worst failure is on the third count: The original was written by the writers of Alien and directed by the man who gave us Robocop, while the re-make was written by the writer of Ultraviolet and directed by the man who unleashed the horrors of the Underworld franchise upon us, and I don’t just mean Kate Beckinsale’s acting.

But leave that aside and look at what was actually done. Battlestar Galactica took the basic premise (humanity is destroyed but for a hodgepodge group of fleeing ships, protected by the last surviving warship on a journey to reach Earth and escape the pursuing enemy) and developed it in a completely different way. Many character names are the same, but the characters themselves are radically improved. Instead of the original's parade of whiteflesh (barring, of course, its Token Black Guy), there’s a little more racial diversity in the new version. In a similar vein, in the rebooted version, women exist, and they even do things. The near-extinction of humanity is treated with respect and gravity instead of the tossed off “Dude, these devastated human population centers drag, let’s make space tracks” of the original. The enemy, while also keeping the same name, is totally different, because really, the identity of the enemy was never integral to the concept of the show. The new show kept the father-son relationship of the warship’s commander but made it antagonistic. Anybody with half a brain could look at both shows and see that the 2003 version is a true re-make of the 1978 horrible version, yet it doesn’t follow lockstep with the original. At best, events from the original provide starting points for the re-make, but the re-make doesn't steal entire plotlines.

This Total Recall re-make jettisons a key part of the premise but keeps just about everything else, including character motivations and actions, dialogue, and let me just say this again because it’s so amazingly stupid, the exact same plot, twists and all. If all the same people are going to do all the same things for all the same reasons, why not just watch the original? And if you are going to change a key part of the premise, shouldn’t that, I don’t know, affect something? What’s the point of changing it if it’s not going to have any impact on the story or characters in any way? And because we're all stupid in the 21st century, the original's not-exactly-subtle critique of European colonialism has become infinitely more hamfisted. Instead of "the metropole doesn't care how the colony is run, so long as it gets what it wants from the colony", we get "the metropole invades the colony and murders everyone in it because...um, evil." That's right, this remake was made by people less subtle than Paul fucking Verhoeven.

Oh, and I’m just going to say this up front: Colin Farrell is not lead material, at least not in action films. Yep, I went there. He was fine in Minority Report as the smarmy douchebag bureaucrat (presumably not a stretch for a man of Colin’s arrogance and overestimation of his own talent), but he consistently fails in lead action roles. Alexander, Daredevil, the remake that shall not be named even though I named it in the first line of this review, this film right here...he doesn’t have the charisma to pull these roles off. Arnold Schwarzenegger may not be much of an actor, but he had charisma in spades. You want his Quaid to succeed just because Schwarzenegger is such a likeable presence on screen. I never cared if Farrell lived or died, especially once it turned out that Hauser was a good guy after all. Well then what’s the big deal? The climatic conflict of the original Total Recall was Quaid’s refusal to go back to being Hauser because “Guy’s a fucking asshole!” (Remember to say that line aloud in your best Schwarzenegger.) But re-make Hauser went over to the resistance to make amends, so he's kind of a good guy already, meaning there’s no real conflict there. Re-make Quaid’s not wanting to go back to being Hauser just makes him seem petty and selfish. Maybe that’s realistic (hell, you wouldn’t see Carl Eusebius giving up his body for Martin Luther King, Jr.), but it’s not very heroic. And for a bloated, goofy action film, we’re looking for heroism, not realism.

People, The Dark Knight is a good movie. Hell, it’s a great movie. But there are other movies out there to ape. Can we have a moratorium on angsty, conflicted, morally torn anti-heroes? Are we so cynical and ironic now that we can't have genuine heroes? Aren’t there any straight-up unabashed and unashamed good guys anymore, even in fiction?

Wait, what's that?

Oh no. 

N-no. No.

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