Ten Things You Should Know about “Total Recall”

You know, I might have been the ideal audience for Total Recall. I’d seen the original just recently enough to recognize homage, but too late in life to become attached to it (which is for the best, since even for a pulp movie that movie has some Things going on). I appreciate a cast that has banded together for a friendly game of Ham-Off. I like a techy dystopia full of second-thought technology. And I was in the mood for something that was ambitiously, hilariously stupid.

But here is the most interesting thing that happened during my movie last night:

After the Paranormal Activity 4 trailer, a screen prompt popped up with one of those Text WANTTHIS to XXX for exclusive content! suggestions.

A guy in the theatre, clearly shaken, shouted, “NOBODY WANTS THAT SHIT.”

Then they showed Total Recall.

It wasn’t even so much a movie as it was a collection of set pieces from other films, and also a huge elevator through the Earth, and some actors who were never sure what was happening, and then just as they were about to start filming that super-rad-one-take-fight-scene the director is clearly very proud of, someone went, “So, is there a script?” and someone went, “Ugh, I GUESS.”

Then they got the Total Recall synopsis from IMDB, scratched out MARS and wrote “huge elevator” a lot, and done!


Colin Farrell is already rethinking this project.

I wanted some dialogue for this cut tag, but trust me, that’s not something anybody wants.

1. Let’s get it out of the way that when we’re talking about Len Wiseman, he doesn’t so much direct movies as he points the camera at stuff and says, “Show me what the fight choreographer made you do!”, so saying he fell down thematically or something gives him credit for having intentional themes, which is not something one should rush to do about a Len Wiseman movie. As we proceed, keep in mind that this movie is like a huge-budget fan film of other movies stapled together by an earth elevator, so there is not a lot to go on.

2. So, this is the world in which this movie exists. Also the world in which this movie exists: because of bio-warfare, everything is uninhabitable except Britain (United Federation of Britain) and Australia (The Colony), and instead of just being separate countries the UFB built a huge space elevator that people take very day to commute to work from the Colony to the UFB. It takes seventeen minutes, and also there is a period of weightlessness, and this is just how things are now.

For the sake of things, let’s just assume that the earth elevator is this movie’s surgically-grafted puppies. Rather than become sovereign nations that have nothing to do with each other, or continuing to use airplanes, or developing industry locally, and I guess because they were not capable of creating an air filter or bioweapon antidote or soil purifier or anything, the two remaining nations on the planet built a space elevator that managed to cut cleanly through the molten hot core of the earth and take only 17 minutes and if you are still with this movie you are cutting it a lot more slack than I am. That is the thing we are all accepting.

3. Doesn’t matter. You are still going to reach a point where you violently check out of this movie, because the space elevator is the scene for the big final battle, and Colin Farrell actually says, “Wait until we pass the core, and then climb out,” because despite going 7,800 miles in seventeen minutes, you can climb on the outside of it just fine, and also once you pass the core of the Earth it’s probably just like a balmy 97 degrees in the mantle or something. Colin Farrell looks very sorry he has to say it.

4. In fact, Colin Farrell looks a little sorry throughout the film, and it’s almost too bad. He’s not at all without talent, and whenever the script gives him a character beat he does very well with it. (My favorite was the quiet freak-out when he sits at a piano and realizes that, due to sense memory, he can still play. And that was his only real character beat, but still!)

But he knows he is outdone in this movie, because by trying to turn in a good, solid, engaging performance, he has stuck himself in the middle of an acting triangle.

5. While he is trying to put out a half-decent performance, he has to deal with Bryan Cranston turning in the first of his Ham-Off entries this year, which he can’t quite bring himself to do, perhaps because he’s wondering why his character, the totalitarian governor, is leading the first wave of a violent colonization war himself, in direct opposition to all common sense. Meanwhile, Jessica Biel (person at whom the camera is sometimes pointed) is trying to squeeze out as many emotions as her pores allow because someone told her this was a serious movie, I guess? The film also features Kate Beckinsale, though it seems less as if she was cast intentionally and more as if she was a convenient stunt double for her hair, as she was able to hold a gun better because she has thumbs. Her attitude throughout the film is, “LET’S DO THIS THING.” That was certainly nice for her during the many chase scenes where she had to look super-invested behind the wheel of an enormous bumper car in front of a green screen dialed to The Fifth Element. (We’ll get there.)

5. Other, less white actors playing characters of note include John Cho Who Dies Immediately, Bokeem Woodbine Who Gets Shot in the Face By Our Hero to Prove Things Are Real, and That Other Nameless Man of Color who dies almost immediately. Excellent job, everyone. Good showing!

6. Speaking of the reality thing, let me disabuse you of the notion that this is anything like the dream-or-not quality of Total Recall, which, despite the fact that the movie is a sea of unfortunate color combinations, awkward line readings, and shots of Arnold running, and/or frowning into things, tries to present a reality that’s literally too good to be true in a story that ends on just enough of a cliffhanger to leave you guessing. It was, perhaps, the only element of the film that stands up. (Yes, I’ve seen it recently enough to be sure. “Two weeks” does not a film make, though one of this film’s few light touches involves an homage to that moment.)

Twenty minutes into this iteration, we see a scene from another character’s POV. It’s exposition. It is explaining that everything that is happening is real. He’s a sleeper agent and he’s been woken up, question answered, Bourne of story. Enjoy that ambiguity as it just washes over you!

7. In fact, let’s just all agree that this movie puts Blade Runner, The Matrix, Fifth Element, The Bourne Identity, and its original iteration in an off-brand blender, forgets to blend them, and just pours them back out. They use the same train station set as The Matrix, the cool quarter is so Blade Runnery that the Blade Runner concept art knocked on the production designer’s office and was like, “Hey man, come on, be cool,” and the scenes of our hero retrieving passports, money, information, and a device from a safety deposit box, and then wandering around his empty yet stylishly-preserved enormous apartment, are so Bourne Identity that Matt Damon is side-eying this movie as you read this.

8. He is also probably side-eying this movie for its action scenes, which, while competent, all seem about four minutes longer than necessary (except the last one, which is fifteen minutes longer than necessary), and are so plentiful that those minutes quickly add up. That was vital character time they honestly could not afford to lose! Jessica Biel can frown all she wants, I am not buying into that or any other relationship you present with a, “Just trust us, it’s amazing.” (It has Jessica Biel in it; you’re already fighting an uphill battle.)

9. And it’s too bad; for all this over-the-top one-linership (“Hope she doesn’t mind where those lips have been.”), Beckinsale’s character is treated like a serious threat of pursuit, and her death in hand-to-hand combat is much less gendered than in the initial iteration, which I appreciated. I wanted more of her — or, hell, even for more of Jessica Biel and Colin Farrell and whatever they are pretending drew them together. (The most we get is an assurance from the there-for-a-day Bill Nighy that “It’s not our past that matters, it’s the present,” which I am pretty sure Guy Pearce would like to have a word about.) Really, for anything at all, I would have sacrificed some of the running from Rekall or some of the Parkour rooftops or some of the bumper cars or some of the cube-elevators which are such engineering nonsense I just wanted Sigourney Weaver to show up and refuse to run through them.

10. Thing I would not have given up for the world: watching Cranston leading the first wave troops in the earth elevator as Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel swim in zero-grav as hard as they can so they can reach the emergency exit placed on the hull of the earth elevator, as Colin Farrell instructs, “When we’re past the core, open this and get to the vehicle bay!” as Biel nods, pops the seal on something that’s going approximately 20,000 miles an hour, and climbs up the outside of it in a refreshing breeze, which means that this earth elevator was built with NITRO settings.


Everyone has a time out while Kate Beckinsale and Bryan Cranston argue about whether it’s sillier to wear heels or a Kevlar doublet on a police raid.

For all this, somehow the movie’s biggest failing is how by-the-numbers it is. There’s not enough of the violent-colonization to even make that theme function. For a movie so concerned with its looks, how unremarkable; for a movie so filled with action, how dutifully dull! It carries with it every marker of an airplane movie, so those of you taking trips 8 months from now, enjoy!

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