'Total Recall' (2012) A Pointless Movie Review
Totally Recalling the Past
Recently I recalled an entire list of what I considered to be the absolute best action movies of the 1990s (Best Action Movies of the 1990s); on the list I included the Paul Verhoeven/Arnold Schwarzenegger classic that is, of course, Total Recall. Declaring in my discussion of the 1990 action masterpiece that I found it to not only be one of the best action flicks out of the ‘90s, but of all time! Classing every element as damn near perfect from the provocative themes, intelligent handling on the debate of what is reality and what could possibly be part of a simulation, the action itself is vicious and exciting, the signature Verhoeven satire is on point and hilarious, Schwarzenegger once again knocks it out of the park with his insane charisma and masterful delivery of one-liners, the special effects are some of the best in the industry, the musical score is stunning in its simplicity of a symphonic swelling and slight militaristic edge, and let’s face facts when I say Johnny Cab 100% stole the show.
Remembering Back to 2012
Funny enough, I do actually remember the day I saw this film in the theater with my whole family. At the time, I was attending the Art Institute and on that particular day I had what was probably the worst experience of dealing with an instructor that I have ever personally dealt with in my life. Long story short, I was struggling to learn a new program that I had never previously been introduced to and when I went to ask for either my instructor’s assistance or my friend’s, I was shot down by my teacher for his help and then the instructor actually threatened my friend that he would flunk him if he attempted to help me. It was an extremely stressful day that my friends and I actually grew closer together in as a result of the oddly tyrannical hissy fit of our “superior.” However, when class was over and I had seemingly failed to learn anything for the day, I was fairly pissed off.
As I didn’t, and still don’t to this day, have my own personal form of transportation, I was picked up by my mother. Who actually surprised me with the whole family tagging along so we could essentially spend a little more time together as we went to the mall, grabbed a bite inside at the food court, then proceeded to snag ourselves some movie tickets to see the latest remake, Total Recall. My parents and I were already big fans of the Schwarzenegger original, so we mainly went in expecting it not to be as good but to enjoy ourselves anyways. Because of the day that I had, when I sat my butt down in that theater, I did not care what the quality of the film was going to be because I simply needed an escape. That’s exactly what the 2012 remake did for me that day, even though I knew full well as I watched the feature that it wasn’t very good, following the original almost to a T to the point where it was obviously a pointless retread. During my stint though in the cinema that day, the negatives did not matter. All that mattered was me spending time with my family while we mildly enjoyed some worthless explosions pop around on the big screen for a couple hours. The furthest thing from quality content, yet still a memory I oddly cherish.
With That Said…
2012’s Total Recall remake is garbage. Why? Another long story short; there’s no ambition to it. In terms of writing, filmmaking, and acting, the kinetic levels of energy that was once seen in the screenplay over twenty years prior has completely disintegrated into the generically uninspired mainstream, PG-13 blockbuster we are discussing now. Supposedly this remake’s script took two writers in order to adapt the 1990 screenplay, what is failed to be mentioned in the credits is how these two writers were apparently sleeping as this shot-for-shot rehash was being typed up on some unpaid-intern’s laptop in a coffee shop one lazy Wednesday afternoon. The producers and writers of this product did not care to create something original or maybe even adapt the original Philip K. Dick source material in a new light, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. Their true goal was to ride on nostalgia, give the old feature a fresh new coat of CG paint and shell it out into theaters to gain a quick buck.
Unfortunately for the producers here as this remake was not quite the success they were clearly hoping for; garnering a budget of an estimated 125 million dollars and domestically only making barely under $59 million at the box office, this was undoubtedly a flop. Granted it did make a worldwide gross of nearly $200 million, although I’d say that is still a far cry from warranting celebration with the budget taking the bulk of those profits already. So I’d say that because there was no ambition, no drive to make something new or inventive, the public knew right off the bat how disingenuous this brand new shiny production truly was and avoided it. Then when it failed in cinemas, the video sales were their only way to dig themselves out of the hole by cashing in on the ‘Unrated/Director’s Cut’ craze that was going on at the time for DVD and Blu-Ray releases. Whether that secondary tactic worked or not, I have no idea, but I know that the extended edition is barely dissimilar from the theatrical version. Which by the way, today I have decided to review the ‘Extended Director’s Cut’ of the picture to grant this as much of a fair chance as possible. Spoiler alert… It changed nothing.
The plot is identical to the 1990 original, only take out anything pertaining to Mars and replace it with a stereotypical ‘Earth is sh*t’ setting and an elevator shaft that shoots through the planet’s core. But alright, let’s play along with this being a “new” film.
A factory worker, Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), yearns for something more exciting and meaningful in his life. In his search for something greater, Doug discovers Rekall; a company who provides clients with simulated fake memories to relive experiences they could only dream of. Although when Doug goes in, things quickly turn awry, discovering that he’s not who he believes himself to be all along, but actually is a spy who’s memory has been erased. Now Quaid finds himself on the run from a deadly Bryan Cranston and a feisty Kate Beckinsale as he tries investigating his true identity with his new love-buddy, Jessica Biel.
To go through the entirety of the remake’s screenplay would more or less be describing the 1990 adaptation’s story, which is what I find to be the single biggest problem with the 2012 picture. It’s a simple ‘cut & paste’ job with not a single iota of innovation whatsoever. When someone watches the Arnie flick for the first time, they feel the excitement and the constant pace that builds up more and more on the absurdity in an enjoyable fashion. Then after 22 years to see it again in a more modern interpretation, that excitement is gone. All of that energy and passion is forgotten as this narrative follows the major plot points in somehow the safest and most boring manner possible. Devoid of any shred of satirical bite, visceral carnage, thoughtful attention to detail, or even a personality that made the original so incredible.
In the end, what are we left with? A screenplay that feels relentless for all the wrong reasons. Rather than relentlessly fast paced in a fun way, we have a relentlessly punishing pace that doesn’t genuinely attempt to flesh out ideas that aren’t its own to begin with. Breezing through a story that I’m not riveted by because it’s exactly the same as the 1990 version, not entertained by the action because it’s dull and completely bloodless, and I don’t give a damn about the characters because they’ve been stripped of all traces of identity. What the hell do I have to rely on when the movie supplies nothing that thrived in the original, yet incorporates so much material from the original that it’s impossible not to think about the original while watching the remake?! If there were enough differences then maybe I could separate the remake as its own separate entity, but I seriously can’t because of how similar it is narratively speaking.
Truthfully, the movie is so ungodly unoriginal and boring that I legitimately started dozing off by the third act. At that point, my brain switched off and I was on full autopilot. My eyes glazing over, eyelids fighting to stay open, my mind couldn’t stand watching it anymore. Thinking back, I’m fairly certain I fell asleep for a brief moment before forcing myself awake to dedicate as much of my focus as humanly feasible, trudging through the remaining minutes of this action bombardment slog. Can’t say that’s happened to me for a while, where I hit ‘play’ on a movie completely alert and then barely passing the halfway mark as I’m practically out like a light. Honestly, if I wasn’t so dedicated in writing a review of this movie I wouldn’t have fought so diligently to stay awake for the remainder of the runtime; I would have taken a damn nap and forgotten all about this remake ever existing. This really wasn’t worth the effort though, now that I’m processing everything. Crap!
Quaid / Farrell
Breaking down the character of Quaid in both theatrical releases is a relatively bare bones description of a person; he’s a grunt worker that does manual labor with aspirations to be something greater than what he is and it so happens that he may actually be a secret agent with a phony life bestowed upon him without his real memories. Quaid is a character that we don’t know much about because he technically doesn’t know much about himself. The whole film revolves around the idea that he is not who he believes himself to be, leaving it up to Quaid to figure out what is real and what might be a fabricated simulation. That is the whole point of the character, to be the empty slate trying to put the puzzle pieces together. Here’s the key difference between the Quaid that Schwarzenegger depicted and the Quaid that Farrell adopted. Arnie was allowed to insert his charm and personality into the character in a way that helps the audience have fun and give a damn about what is going on. Colin Farrell’s Quaid, on the other hand, has nothing to him. He’s an empty shell and I truly could not care less about this block of wood on screen.
Before I go any further, I want to say that I don’t blame Colin Farrell in the slightest for why I believe the Quaid character doesn’t work in the remake. Farrell is an astonishing actor who has worked wonders in front of the camera and I find his performances can be absolutely brilliant… That is when the actor is allowed to provide a soul or some form of personality within his characters. Farrell’s Jerry from the Fright Night remake is cool and intimidating as hell, his role in Horrible Bosses was one of the most hilarious comedic performances of his career, Farrell as Bullseye in the 2003 Daredevil movie is easily one of the most entertaining villains I have ever seen in my life, his version of Sonny Crockett for the Miami Vice film was a great continuation of the character while still bringing in his own charm, the list probably goes on and on. Yet when we reach his adaptation of Quaid, all I see is a bland hero with no reason to root for him. At no point in the performance am I finding anything necessarily wrong with Farrell’s acting, but the huge problem is that the script gives him nothing to work with and it seems that the director is of no benefit either.
Because the audience is left with such minor details about this character’s backstory and because there is no semblance of a personality to this newer version of Quaid, why should I root for him? Why should I care? If this guy lives or dies or gets lobotomized, I wouldn’t shed a single tear for him. I mean, this Quaid barely has a reaction to when a bullet goes through his hand so why exactly should I fear for this man’s life if he doesn’t even seem all that interested in it himself? It’s strange how similar yet different both Quaid characters are because on paper they probably read eerily similar, yet when we see the performances, they’re night and day from one another. And only one of which is successful while the other is utterly forgettable.
The Rest of the Cast
Bryan Cranston as Cohaagen:
Honestly, this is brilliant casting. There’s no punchline here, no tricks or anything. Cranston as Cohaagen is probably this remake’s absolute best idea. Too bad he gets a measly five to ten minutes of screen time at best. Seriously, if given the opportunity, Cranston could have knocked this one right out of the park! Instead, we’re left with a stock villain of the week who makes zero impression on any sort of lasting memory. How disappointing that they cast such a remarkable talent as their antagonist and somehow stuff his role in concise pockets of nothingness.
Jessica Biel as… the Romantic Interest:
I don’t remotely care about this character in the slightest. I’m sorry Ms. Biel, I’m sure you’re a lovely person and I want to see you succeed. Truth be told, this role was for no one to succeed in though. This is as generic of a love interest as a script can get. There’s nothing about this woman that’s interesting, charismatic, or even badass. She’s another block of wood that only exists to carry along the plot. Nothing more.
Kate Beckinsale as the British Villain:
If there is anyone in this movie that shows a modicum of personality here, it’s Kate Beckinsale. Legitimately, she is the only actor that I could find at least a fraction of entertainment value in. Even with that, she still has nothing to her character to make me all that interested. Also, if I’m being honest, the majority of this character’s personality comes from Beckinsale’s accent. I’m sorry, just another bland baddie.
No one else matters.
Is This the Real Life? Or Is This Just Fantasy?Click thumbnail to view full-size
In my opinion, Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 feature was as close to perfect when balancing the action and wild story along with the question of whether Quaid’s journey was real or simply a dream designed by the Rekall company. A remarkable argument can easily be made for both sides of the debate, which is one of the reasons why the 1990 movie works so well. It’s rather impressive how strenuous the screenplay delves into such creative attention to detail within the plot in order to supply both opinions on the matter with enough fuel to argue upon. To get into just how much the film uses clever writing to walk the line of reality and fantasy would be a whole article in and of itself.
Then we move onto the 2012 remake… The only impressive fact about this adaptation is how strangely close yet distant it is from its own source material, simultaneously ripping content directly from the original screenplay and somehow still not capturing anything that worked about it. When 1990 Quaid is forced to solve whether he’s living inside a dream or not, it’s a legitimate mystery with enough breadcrumbs to follow along on. When 2012 Quaid is faced with the same questions, it feels oddly random and out of place; as though the idea of Quaid questioning his own reality is an afterthought instead of being fully developed. Which is strange because all this movie did was ‘copy & paste’ the original script, yet somehow accidentally deleted the parts that made it more than a run of the mill blockbuster.
There was never a moment, not even a second, where I thoroughly questioned whether Quaid’s journey was simulation or reality. From start to finish I interpreted this story as his reality, no matter how absurd or convoluted the story became, I still never thought to myself of this as ambiguously executed. Why though? The same major story beats and plot twists are found in both versions, so why is it I find the 1990 movie so compelling while the 2012 movie is a total mess? Mostly because any time the idea of Quaid possibly dreaming is brought up, it feels random. Those themes are sporadically placed into the narrative while excluding any weight being provided for the argument. There’s no care or thought being implemented into it, it just takes the biggest key scenes that include that particular thread and leaves out the interesting trail to follow. Every time the remake pathetically attempts to say Quaid is living in a dream all along, I instantly call bull sh*t! Why? Easy. Because the writers here never tried convincing us of such, and when it did it was a little too late, coming across as just lazy.
PG-13Click thumbnail to view full-size
Alright, look… I’m not trying to say that an action movie being rated R magically makes it good or that anything PG-13 is immediately bad. However, part of the 1990 movie’s identity was the fact that it was a hard R flick with awesome gore to boot. Does that mean the remake has to follow directly in those footsteps? No, but it followed so closely in the story department so why not give us some cool bloody action spectacle too?! Yet it couldn’t even manage that! And yes, I’m still referring to the ‘Unrated’ cut of the movie, which really was a scam to call it that. There’s not truly any extra amount of blood or gore, the occasional extra drop of blood that the viewer might see for literally a fraction of a second. That’s it though! Most of the time, injuries cause practically no blood to be spilt whatsoever. Hell, sometimes I’m pretty sure people in this movie bleed dust particles when they’re shot. Then on top of that, replacing as many human components as possible with robots instead so the movie can be a little more “heavy” on the carnage while also trying to appease 13-year old idiots.
Why does this element matter so much? The difference between being rated PG-13 and R should not be able to dictate the quality of a film, right? Well, it’s difficult to take the remake seriously when it sanitizes all of the adult themes and visuals of the original in order to make something so mindless as this weak excuse for “family entertainment.” Ultimately, that is exactly what the remake is doing (including the ‘Unrated’ cut) by dumbing down the material to be no more than a bunch of explosive noise on screen. A total joke in my eyes, especially when it calls itself the ‘Unrated’ version when it is still a PG-13, except they slipped in the word “f*ck” twice and included an extra drop of blood. Ridiculous! Now if any version of the remake even tried a little to stand out as unique or entertaining, or at the very least inserted some gratuitous gore for entertainment purposes then maybe I could respect this film more. However, I can’t respect this movie because I feel it doesn’t respect its audience so why should I show it any in return?
The Action & Special EffectsClick thumbnail to view full-size
In describing the action of the 2012 remake, there’s only one word that comes to mind; boring. It’s completely boring. If I ever felt any form of excitement or was riveted by anything from this flick, it was the ending credits letting me know I can stop watching this hunk of sh*t now. Where is the fun energy in a summertime movie that I’m supposed to be feeling? Where’s the mind-blowing stunts that will floor me? When will I be privileged to any sense of danger for the heroes? Let me say that none of those aspects make an appearance in this feature. The heroes are indestructible pawns to move the plot along its consistent supply of conveniences to keep them alive.
Would someone reading this care to have a little bit of excitement in their popcorn flick? Here you go then, in the same exact year that the Total Recall remake released, we actually did get a number of action features who accomplished some of the much needed excitement and thrills; Dredd, The Raid: Redemption, Skyfall, The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, Men in Black 3, The Expendables 2, The Hunger Games, Lockout, Jack Reacher, John Carter, Looper, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, 21 Jump Street, Safe, and The Dark Knight Rises are all theatrical releases that also came out in 2012 and are a hundred times more riveting than what we see here. Regardless on the debate of whether those other movies are anything great in quality, but at the very least we can say is that those filmmakers injected some level of passion in energizing the action. The same cannot be said for 2012’s Total Recall.
Admittedly, I have a strong distaste for the inclusion of pointless and uninspired CGI in film. No, I can’t say that this is the worst CGI I’ve ever seen in my life. Not by a long shot. With that said, it serves no purpose other than the filmmakers only wanted to resolve all of their production issues with computers rather than making a substantial amount of props or exploring creative avenues to build their world. Any and every special effect that popped on screen I was never impressed by, never wowed by, never at any moment did I wonder how in the world were these visuals produced. Not once, because throughout most of the runtime I always knew that this was the work of a couple VFX artists and green screens. To me, that is quite possibly one of the least exciting prospects to be thinking about while watching a movie. I go into a movie hopeful to marvel at stunning visuals and be left in awe from inventive landscapes created by an inspired crew. I don’t feel anything remotely close to what I just described while watching the 2012 Total Recall.
A breakdown of the special effects that could have been, and some cases were, achieved by practical means... For some reason it was necessary to burn a few extra million bucks here and there for no good reason!
Let’s be completely honest, we accept a massive amount of absurdities and farfetched concepts in the name of science fiction. We’ve accepted a whole colony of mutants living on Mars, we’ve embraced time traveling robots on a mission to kill babies, we’ve cowered in fear of chest bursting space aliens, and we’ve cheered for a bunch of kids to murder each other on their live post-apocalyptic reality television broadcasting entertainment. Crazy stuff, right? Can someone explain to me why am I having such trouble wrapping my head around a gigantic elevator shaft shooting straight through the Earth’s core? Could be that the issue resides in how the film opens; declaring that the majority of the planet has been rendered uninhabitable due to chemical warfare that occurred over several years.
So instead of using science to figure out how to rectify the Earth’s current situation of decay or installing systems of some kind to help make the problem areas livable or even follow what the original screenplay implemented and moving civilization onto the planet Mars… Instead what society apparently thought was the smartest thing to do was drill a giant hole all the way through the planet and put an elevator in it… How and why was that somehow the world’s first choice? Their go-to plan was to possibly risk killing the planet and everyone on it so they could build this jerry-rigged railroad system to go directly from England to Australia because apparently there weren’t any other better options… F*cking what?! Are you kidding me right now! And how in the hell did we develop the technology to survive the heat from the Earth’s core, yet we can’t figure out how to fix some radiated dirt?
In an attempt to accept this nonsense and say, for argument’s sake, that I am able to buy into this ridiculous load of crap. Fine. We have an elevator shooting through the Earth’s core to go from one side of the planet to the other as a means for transportation. In fact the only safe and reliable means for transportation in order for civilization to actually still continue living. Supplying the entirety of the remaining survivors of the planet a means for work, providing society shelter and necessities while also keeping the economy afloat. Sounds like a rather major component keeping these people alive and functioning as a society right? Guess what our protagonists do to this almighty elevator… They blow it up! That’s right!! Goodbye society, can’t wait to watch as the world crumbles because our heroes decided the best way for society to move on is to gut out their major means of transportation in order to maintain coexistence. Perfect.
Let’s set aside the fact that the destruction of this oversized elevator may have caused damage to the Earth’s core enough to die out or even cause irrepressible repercussions onto the entirety of all living beings on the planet. Forget that. Also forget that the economy and all hopes of maintaining a functioning society is thrown right out the God damn window. How about we focus on the fact that millions of people have basically just lost their entire families, all their friends, their entire lives are forever separated from them on the other side of the freaking planet because two jackasses thought it would be a good idea to blow up literally their only way back home. That’s all gone now. There’s no going back supposedly since the rest of the planet is so dangerous to travel through, so now these people stuck on the wrong side of the world are forced to start from scratch without any hopes of reuniting with their loved ones. Why? I don’t know! Something about corrupt politicians and evil government, blah blah blah, must blow sh*t up to resolve the climax. Genius. Why exactly am I supposed to be rooting for Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel?
Lens Flares: The MovieClick thumbnail to view full-size
Would it be an exaggeration if I were to say that 90% of this movie is filling the screen with lens flares? And I mean filling the whole f*cking frame with obvious post-production lens flares because most of the time it doesn’t even make any sense why there would be a lens flare going on in the screen yet they’re everywhere. They can literally be in a dark ass cave yet somehow there are still lens flares covering the entire frikkin’ camera shot for no reason! It’s obnoxious as hell as it looks like Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrahms got together, then both tragically suffered stroke while sitting at a laptop using VFX editing software while just going crazy! It’s awful, pointless, annoying, and wildly distracting.
I’m surprised at myself that I went as long as I did writing about a film that is generally mediocre. Maybe it’s because the original film means so much to me, the fact that I’m a huge Schwarzenegger fan, and I find Total Recall to be one of this action star’s greatest achievements; all of these elements probably culminated into me prattling on endlessly about a simply underwhelming remake. I’ve said my peace on the 2012 remake; it’s bland, boring, uninspired, generic, forgettable, and misses the key ingredients in making a thought provoking yet exciting action flick. If someone out there is curious to see this, just don’t, stick with the 1990 movie. And if someone hasn’t seen the 1990 movie, get your ass to Mars and go see it. Dumbass.
Oh. And Also…
Funny enough, I recently by coincidence review another modern remake of a classic Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick; Conan the Barbarian. If you’re curious on what my thoughts were for that movie, by all means click on the link down below. I hope you enjoy!
- 'Conan the Barbarian' (2011) A Barbaric Movie Review
Conan is a simple man with a simple plan... Kill the jerk who murdered his father, rescue the pretty princess, and save the world! But is it good? Let's have ourselves a little talky talky about the matter!
Which Recalled It Totally?
What is your favorite version of 'Total Recall'?
That’s All Folks…
Total Recall… Bad remake. What did you think though? Like or dislike? Agree or disagree? Wish someone would tell you your whole life is a lie and find out you’re a secret agent? Comment down below and let me know! Also, if you so happened to have enjoyed my review then please do me a favor and share this article around the social media world. Thank you all so much for reading and have yourselves a total recall of a day!
© 2020 John Plocar