Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune already acknowledged the hilarity of having production company Original Film’s logo open Total Recall. But it is difficult to regard Total Recall (2012)without addressing the Paul Verhoeven/Arnold Schwarzenegger original. Total Recall (1990) stands as one of the great blockbusters of its time, and marks Schwarzenegger’s greatest on-screen performance ever. It’s a film that I admire for both its biting philosophy and intrigue. There’s a genuine sense of mystery to the way Verhoeven went about developing his narrative. And its premise still grips me as the sort of spectacle that could only be properly told through the cinema. And then there’s Len Wiseman’s 2012 remake.
Colin Farrell is an impressive actor whose skill trumps that of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s. His lacking presence is certainly not where to displace blame. Similarly, talented actors like Bryan Cranston and Bill Nighy can’t be faulted for their limited performances – their roles simply do not demand anything beyond being serviceable to dunderheaded plotting. Conversely, someone with, let’s say, a limited capacity for acting (such as Jessica Biel), are offered reprieve from material that has absolutely no room for flexibility. Kate Beckinsale, the picture’s lone bright spot, exhibits an impressive physical performance, but like with most of the cast, is presented with material that dehumanizes her to that of a robot.
Case in point, it’s easy to point the blame on an actor for not sustaining the sort of natural charisma that was exhibited by Schwarzenegger. The problem lies squarely at the hand of its helmer. Len Wiseman’s instincts as a filmmaker are to introduce audiences to a convoluted environment and move through it with the utmost speed, with no regard for tact. Wiseman operates under two basic principles in Total Recall (2012): (1) to provide information in the most nonsensical way possible, expecting audiences to be swept away by his action sequences and (2) to be enamored by the gratuitous references to Verhoeven’s picture. Both principles operate in constant opposition.
If Wiseman were to impress me with his action sequences, he would need to know how to actually frame these scenes. His nauseating spiraling camera, dollying in and out, is compounded with useless film “techniques” like his usage of lens flare. Without establishing the physical space, Wiseman incessantly implements chase sequences as a way of navigating through his CGI world. These scenes mean nothing and have no consequence besides halting any sense of narrative progression. The term “narrative progression” ought to be taken lightly too. For one, Total Recall (2012) really functions as a string of action set-pieces with intermittent scenes of dialogue functioning as causal reminders that this is indeed a film about living, breathing people. With the large assembly of robots on display, one can be forgiven for questioning the humanity of any of the characters in this picture.
How am I to forget about Total Recall (1990) when Wiseman so explicitly acknowledges it in his new film? I entered his film hoping to judge it on its own merits. But the incessant winking at the previous picture serves to underscore just how useless this remake happens to be. Total Recall’s (2012) most viscerally engaging scenes are those that were directly lifted from Verhoeven’s original. Wiseman’s only success: he manages to design a 2-hour infomercial celebrating the excellence of the 1990 original.