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Articles by Brian Jackson

Review: Total Recall

15 August 2012

Total Recall is a movie about Arnold Schwarzenegger. In this movie, Colin Farrell plays a smaller, stubbly Arnold who can do parkour and fight with the martial arts skill of a pro wrestler denied the use of chairs and ladders. The movie seems to have been written by a teenager who's seen the original a couple of times and wants to retell the story with more lens flare and less subtlety.

Spoiler alert: The entire movie.

The movie opens with Farrell, our hero, on the run from some future cops. He's accompanied by Jessica "Chompers" Biel, who escapes while the police are ensnaring Farrell with what appear to be military-grade Christmas lights.

Farrell awakes to his lovely wife, Kate Beckinsale, who assures him that dreams aren't real. This, folks, is foreshadowing. This movie doesn't want you to miss the looming plot twist, so Beckinsale makes sure to drive the point home to her husband two or three times.

And this movie will sledgehammer every single science fiction setpiece into your frontal lobe by telling you outright everything you've just seen. Farrell's getting an IV? Just like in real life, the nurse explains that "it's still the best way to get chemicals into the human body." If you see something cool on screen, you should assume you've missed it, because that is how the movie will treat you.

Now, the plot centers on the plight of workers commuting from post-apocalyptic Australia (now renamed "The Colony", so you'll know it's the future) to Britain by taking a skyscraper-sized vehicle called The Fall through the center of the Earth (don't even get me going on this subject). The rest of the world has been bombed to heck in a chemical war; mutants from Mars have been replaced by a factory-bound proletariat, suffering mandatory double shifts and apparently forced to squat in an old Blade Runner set for which Ridley Scott no longer wants to pay rent. In the future, no one showers, and everything is a touchscreen. Into this world, our handsome and troubled hero is thrust, passed over for promotion at his robot-assembly job (which is just one or two breaths away from a Yakov Smirnoff bit, if you think about it), and driven to look to artificial memories for release from the mind-numbing monotony of living with Kate Beckinsale his crappy job.

Of course, his free trip to Rekall goes south when it's discovered that he is, in fact, a secret agent, whose memories have already been altered. The billboard-sized ads and ubiquitous word-of-mouth for Rekall apparently didn't convince the police force of the illegality of its operation until the exact moment Farrell is undergoing his procedure, because a bunch of (brain-scratchingly human) police officers bust in and start shooting up the place, which forces Farrell to sloppy-jujitsu his way through the crowd of fully-armed men like a Jason Bourne marionette. Of course, after the ensuing chase scene, Farrell's return home is also spoiled by the sudden, murderous rage of Beckinsale, who is revealed to be an undercover government agent, now inexplicably more interested in killing Farrell than persuading him to turn himself in or even arresting him personally before he gets suspicious so that his memories can be readjusted by whoever twiddled them in the first place. You see, Beckinsale's character, unlike the fake wife in the Schwarzenegger flick, will become the antagonistic focus of the movie, a mad queen whose single-minded persecution of Farrell is half-explained as jealousy for his previous reputation as an invincible government agent. This rather implausible motive will lead her to:

  1. Try to choke the life out of Farrell in their future-apartment
  2. Chase him all over the city, shooting at him with a future-pistol
  3. Drive a police future-car in a high-speed chase aimed at ending Farrell's life
  4. Send Farrell's best friend to his death while trying to convince Farrell it's all a dream
  5. Blow up a bunch of innocent people in future-elevators at Farrell's lavish apartment
  6. Chase Farrell all over The Fall while it's in motion
  7. Attempt to disguise herself as Jessica Biel so she can murder Farrell after everybody who could possibly order her to do so has perished

Now, during the seemingly endless series of chase sequences, Farrell meets Jessica Biel, who tells him, "So many teeth! Oh my gosh, I have so many teeth!" (That's what I heard, anyway.) But that persuades Farrell to go looking for the resistance movement, and Farrell and Biel get to develop an on-screen romance based upon running away from robots and destruction of property.

So Farrell's character eventually winds up looking for the Kuato stand-in, the leader of the resistance, a rather dour-looking man played by Bill Nighy, who tells him in philosophical terms that his memories mean less than whatever impulse is currently at the steering wheel in his brain at the moment. This somehow convinces Farrell to help the resistance while dismissing the entire reason he came in the first place. Unfortunately, the "kill code" that's supposed to shut down the entire robot army worldwide at once (just like the real army builds into their equipment!) is a decoy, and a live video of Bryan Cranston is broadcast from inside Farrell's cranium. This cues Beckinsale and Cranston to burst in, guns blazing, capturing Farrell and Biel, and forcing Farrell into a procedure that will restore his brain from a backup that Cranston happens to be carrying on his person. Of course, Farrell escapes by murdering everyone in the room, including the soldier who's secretly been helping him since the beginning of the movie.

Biel is carried off to The Fall to accompany Cranston as he personally leads his automated army during their conquest of The Colony, and Farrell gives chase.

Eventually Farrell frees Biel and they fight their way to the top, where a future-plane-hovercraft is in the vehicle bay (which has somehow migrated from one side of The Fall to the other). It is here that Farrell has his chop-socky showdown with Cranston, who, though surrounded by his robot army, decides to try to knife-fight Farrell, who is twenty years younger, made of well-toned muscle, and who has already shown himself on three occasions to be capable of killing an entire group of trained and fully-equipped soldiers. The bombs Farrell has already set on The Fall eventually begin to go off, giving him the upper hand over the physically inferior enemy who'd begun clobbering him worse than Rosie O'Donnell at an all-you-can-eat buffet. He finishes off Cranston, and at the last second, Biel and Farrell both jump twenty feet off The Fall, saving them from the nearby high-explosive fireball which doesn't even singe a pretty hair on Farrell's head.

Farrell is taken to an ambulance, where Beckinsale, hologram-disguised as Jessica Biel, tries to kill Farrell one last time - what a twist - although she's thwarted when he sees that she doesn't have the distinctive scar on her hand from the beginning of the movie. Her dead body flops out of the ambulance, in the sight of about fifty medics and policemen - who already somehow know Farrell is the hero, despite the fact that none of them could have seen any part of his heroics, and would have only known his face during his tenure as a fugitive from the law. Farrell and real-Biel kiss, and the credits roll. It's like poetry.

So if you're interested in listening to PG-13 profanity, watching what would be considered mediocre special effects if this were a video game, and feeling like you're always seven steps ahead of the scriptwriters, this movie is for you. Otherwise, I'm sure you can dust off your VHS copy of the Schwarzenegger classic and save yourself eight bucks.

Or go see Batman again. It's good.



You put more time into writing this review than you did watching the movie.

I would know -- I was there.

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