So, I had no burning desire to see this movie, and I have fond memories of the original from 22 years ago. Why then was I spending my time on it? It comes down to curiosity and time. I was mildly interested in how the film would be updated and I had a couple of hours available on a Monday morning. If this is not sounding like a ringing endorsement, well you get the gist of the experience. There was nothing about the movie that I hated and nothing about it that I loved. It just sort of sits there and is what it is (a phrase I try to avoid using but sometimes just fits the circumstances).
Colin Farrel is an actor I have liked in many films, I think his best performance was in “Crazy Heart” a couple of years ago, and I did not even know he was in that when I went to see it. He was well cast as a working man vampire in the other remake he starred in last August “Fright Night”. Here though he shows that he can’t really carry a movie like this on his own shoulders. He was believable enough in the fight scenes, but none of the fight scenes are really believable. They have that digitized, fast paced, inconsistent point of view look that you see in a lot of action films these days. Everyone punches with incredible force and no one ever seems to feel the effect of the confrontation. Outside of the physical aspects to his performance, there is really not much of a character here and he seems so blank for most of the movie that we have nothing invested.
Say what you want about the acting chops of Arnold Schwarzenegger, he had movie star charisma and an outsized personality that could carry a big sci-fi action flick. A quick comparison of one concept from the 1990 film to the one from today illustrates what I am talking about. In the Schwarzenegger version, the “bug” homing device is planted in his head and he has to stick a long set of needle nose pliers up his nose and extract a ball the size of a plum out of his face. A combination of make up and practical effects along with Arnold’s weirdly expressive face make the scene memorable and funny. Farrell has to remove a cell phone type device from his hand, we don’t get a very clear shot of it taking place, it is CGI, and the funny element is provided by another actor who plays a kid he trades the phone with. We are not getting anything out of his performance in the film, it is all in the visual elements and they are not really that interesting.
I’ve seen some comments on other review sights that dismiss the effects in the 1990 film as being weak, but they all seem more real than anything that happens in this film. It looks like a video game and never sucks us in with a hint of reality. I’ll take the Johnny Cab of the 1990 film over the magnetic car chase in this movie any day. The car chase seems very reminiscent of a similar vehicle chase in another film Farrell made ten years ago, “Minority Report”. Maybe the concept is found in the source material, works by Phillip K.Dick, but if you are going to bother to do a remake, it should feel fresh and nothing here felt fresh. The mechanical disguise that Farrell wears is not half as clever as the one from 1990, and there is no real humor to it when the inevitable malfunction occurs. The “Mars” revolution that was presented twenty two years ago is replaced with an Earthbound conflict that makes very little sense. We are asked to believe that there is a giant elevator which can drop large numbers of people from one side of the planet to the other in just a few minutes, but we can’t find a way to decontaminate parts of the planet that are supposed to be “No Zones” because of a chemical weapons war. Land and territory are the motivators of the action in the film, but the part of the planet that wants to invade is relatively uncrowded. They don’t have any traffic jams and people live in large apartments with very few family members. We get scenes of congestion in the Colony that is about to be invaded, and it feels completely backwards.
The concept of the movie is a mind**** that ought to be the focus of the story. Too often we leave that aside for the implacable Kate Beckindale assault, chase, and then exposition followed by another assault and chase. The part of Lori, the memory implanted wife and spyminder was a breakout role for Sharon Stone. Beckinsdale seems to be playing the same kind of character she has played in the “Underworld” movies, or is it “Resident Evil”? The look of both those series is so flat and the action so mechanical that it is hard to distinguish them from one another (Zombies and Vampires Right?). The new “Total Recall” looks like another in those movie series rather than a remake of a creative Science Fiction/action landmark. There is no sense of humor, no rationality, and the characters are never surprising or interesting. If you like high tech shoot-em-ups, then this is right up your alley. If you want something more interesting, keep waiting and “Recall” the 1990 original.