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Wednesday, April 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 47.0° F  Light Rain
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Total Recall remake doesn't match the original
This time, no exploding heads

Farrell is fine as a man tormented by nightmares.
Farrell is fine as a man tormented by nightmares.
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Total Recall is the second feature-length adaptation of a paranoiac sci-fi story by Philip K. Dick, and this one may be more in tune with the bleak times we're living through. But it's also very much a product of director Len Wiseman.

Fans of Paul Verhoeven's 1990 original will immediately notice a few major changes: no Schwarzenegger, no Mars, no exploding heads - and, potentially the major deal-breaker, no sense of humor and precious little satire. Wiseman, who's helmed the superior franchise Underworld, is good at taking the preposterous and making it seem utterly real. He's that rarest of Hollywood types, a director who invests himself fully, genre be damned.

Dick, whose 1966 short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" inspired both adaptations, would probably have sided with Verhoeven's mordant take on the intersection of identity, consumerism and "reality," but that's just a hunch. Wiseman's film dispenses with pop-culture-laden irony in favor of blazingly fast action and a disorienting editing style that makes your head spin. And not necessarily in a good way.

Colin Farrell, bulked up as everyman Doug Quaid, is fine as a man tormented by nightmares that may be memories of a life he cannot recall. His wife (Kate Beckinsale) assures him it's all in his head. Of course, she's right, but not in the way Quaid hopes.

Set in a dystopic 2084 that lifts an awful lot from Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and a pinch from The Fifth Element, Quaid's journey from obliviousness to anti-government insurgent feels right. But Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback's script rarely gives the viewer time to ponder this poor guy's existential crisis. Total Recall kicks off at Mach 10 and never lets up. If Verhoeven's version is a cool head trip, Wiseman's take is the cinematic equivalent of mainlining bad bathtub crank. It's fun while it lasts, but 24 hours later, you'll be hard-pressed to remember what you watched.

Paul Cameron's cinematography, commingled with sweeping CGI images of a nasty-looking future, is immersive in the extreme, and the film is the better for it. On the other hand, the great Bill Nighy (Shaun of the Dead) is wasted in an underwritten role as rebel leader Matthias, and even Jessica Biel is shortchanged as Quaid's other-life not-quite-wife.

This Total Recall is fast, furious and fun, but it lacks the snappy weirdo vibe of its predecessor. If this is the future, I'd rather forget it.

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