Review: Total Recall

2012 will be remembered as the summer of visually amazing science fiction tentpole movies, with the greatest example being the extraordinarily expensive but ultimately incomprehensible Prometheus. The new film Total Recall joins this parade, with production design that is so clearly inspired by the wonderful Blade Runner exteriors, with some Fifth Element car chases and Star Wars stormtroopers tossed in for good measure, that it’s a delight to watch.
Better, director Len Wiseman and his team of (six!) writers have updated the classic cheesy 1990 sci-fi actioner with some ingenious revisions and a likable Colin Farrell as the everyman who learns that everything he thinks he knows about his life has been implanted. Sounds a bit like what Deckard tells Rachael in a pivotal scene in Blade Runner, doesn’t it?  No surprise, both are based on paranoid Philip K. Dick stories.
In Total Recall, Farrell plays Douglas Quaid, a factory worker who helps assemble security droids. The world has been polluted through chemical warfare, leaving only two zones livable: The Colony (Australia) and the United Federation of Britain. Travel between them is through “The Fall”, a building-size elevator that plummets through the center of the Earth and out the other side. Elapsed time: 16min. Cool.
Quaid is married to the lovely Lori (Kate Beckinsale) and after being turned down for a promotion at his tedious job, yearns for something more. That something more ends up being a visit to Rekall, a corporation that injects memories, offering customers the chance to “remember” events that they could never afford. The procedure doesn’t go as planned, and suddenly, in a very ‘Bourne Identity’ way, Quaid finds himself a crack fighter on the run from, well, from everyone. And he’s not Douglas Quaid at all, but then who is he and who can he trust?
The chase is led by Lori (Beckinsale) and masterminded by Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston). On the resistance side are rebel fighter Melina (Jessica Biel) and rebel leader Matthias (Bill Nighy).
Ah, but here’s the rub. The film was close to being a really great sci-fi action film. It is visually terrific, and worth seeing just for that. But in their zeal to have a twist at the end, an ending a la the wonderful ambiguity of ‘Inception’, the filmmakers instead added a final five minutes of footage that frankly left me scratching my head, baffled by what had just transpired. There are lots of obvious twists that can be utilized in a film about implanted and fake memories, and I believe that’s what they were trying to do, but I just can’t explain the end, even if I wanted to slip a spoiler in here.
So that’s your puzzle: do you go see a movie because it’s reasonably well acted, has a terrific Harry Gregson-Williams score and has great production design by Patrick Tatopoulos and the Double Negative VFX group? Or do you wait until it’s on DVD because in fact a comprehensible story is a must for you? Your answer to those questions will determine if you should go see Total Recall in the theater or not.
Now about that spider that was in the tree just outside my bedroom window…

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