Total Recall: A Prime Example of Bad Remakes

Seeing Total Recall last night was interesting for me because I don’t usually like to see remakes. In fact, there’s several reasons why I don’t like remakes. First, I don’t appreciate the blatant Hollywood money grab. It’s insulting to me as a moviegoer. Why do producers feel they need to remake a movie when they made a decent amount of money on the original? Because they want more money. It’s basically like them waving your money in your face saying, “We know you’re dumb enough to pay us to see the same movie twice.”

Second, it upsets me that there are plenty of good screenwriters out there with original screenplays that will never get their movies made because remakes are more profitable. Technically, that’s more of the audience’s fault than it is the producers though. If the audience didn’t go to see the shitty remakes, then producers wouldn’t equate shitty remakes with money and would probably start buying into original screenplays.

And lastly, there’s the extremely obvious reason. Remakes suck (See: FootloosePlanet of the ApesA Nightmare on Elm StreetThe OmenClash of the Titans, etc.). There’s such an arrogance and an undeserved sense of accomplishment that comes with remaking a movie that it almost blinds the cast and crew from actually trying to do better than the original. Sure, they might have more money and better graphics, but they end up lacking depth and style. Also, you can’t remake a classic. That being said, I don’t know if the original Total Recall can be considered a classic.

Having made those points, I feel bad that I’m writing a review for this movie without having seen the original Total Recall (1990) because I can’t make comparisons between the two. But I’m not a fan of the Governator, so I really didn’t have an interest in seeing the original. Hell, I didn’t even really have an interest in seeing this one either until I heard it was a flop. Now that I’m writing these reviews on a regular basis, all I want to do is rip terrible movies a new asshole—especially when those movies have Jessica Biel because she’s just awful. So let’s move on to some wicked criticism…

I think the one really cool thing about this movie is the post-apocalyptic setting. For those of you who haven’t seen either movie…it’s explained that the Earth saw a chemical warfare, which led to most of the continents being completely unlivable, so the only habitable places are the United Federation of Britain (which covers northwestern Europe) and the Colony (which covers the continent of Australia).

The great thing about doing a movie with a post-apocalyptic setting is that you don’t have to get facts right—you can create and design your own world. I think the graphic designers and creative team did excellent with this. The vehicles, the buildings, the homes, the technology—all of it was great. Not to mention, I thought they did exceptionally well capturing the essence of the diversity, the poverty, and the industry that could possibly separate people in a post-apocalyptic future. I also loved the whole concept and graphic design of “The Fall,” which was a massive ship that bulleted through the planet’s core in 17 minutes, linking the UFB and the Colony.

Also, there was an intriguing (and possibly underlying) theme I picked up while watching this movie beyond the whole “Is it real, or is it recall?” discussion. It’s not necessarily that it makes this movie awesome, but I think it’s something worth mentioning. What’s the theme, you ask? An “American” story. Now, that might seem strange to you if you’ve seen Total Recall because you specifically remember this movie being about a spy, whose memory was wiped, saving the world from destruction after finding out he is integral to both the resistance and the government; and you’ll argue that this story took place in the United Federation of Britain and the Colony. But…wait a minute. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Britain vs. the Colony. Hmm, where have I heard that before?

And don’t forget the UFB plan to invade the Colony to wipe out the people and utilize the Colony’s space. Weird. That, too, sounds familiar. Oh, and wasn’t it odd that Lori (Kate Beckinsale) suddenly dropped her American accent and took on a British accent when we found out she was working with UFB intel (a.k.a the bad guys)? And what exactly was Doug Quaid/Carl Hauser (Colin Farrell) trying to do to save the world? Oh, that’s right! Stop the invasion of the UFB in the Colony with the help of the Resistance.

Okay, okay…you get it now. But it still seems weird, right? Because why would a post-apocalyptic world be using an American theme? It’s actually a common occurrence in other movies, too, in order to make the audience root for the good guy (Cracked even has an article that mentions it). All this talk of freedom and fighting the government oppression really speaks to an audience that is mostly American—and by speaks, I mean tugs at their subconscious, which over time has learned through schooling, the media, and our patriotic upbringing that these are American values.

My number one complaint with this movie was the lack of character development. It doesn’t matter what type of story it is—a character needs to be multi-dimensional with a distinct personality and a clear background that drives them toward their goals (through the plot) in order for the audience to relate to and care about them. With the Doug Quaid/Carl Hauser (Colin Farrell) character, it was a tricky situation. Doug Quaid wasn’t a real person and had false memories implanted in his mind so that he couldn’t remember that he was truly Carl Hauser. Doug was bland without any distinct personality traits, and it felt like he just went through all of the motions while other characters interacted with him in order to push the story along. Not a good start. It could’ve been redeemed with Carl Hauser, who was apparently the most badass intel spy in the world. But did we ever see that? No, we were never shown the background, nor did we ever see it resurface.

Tell me, how am I supposed to believe an ordinary character is an amazing badass super spy when I never see his past? Oh, he shoots guns really well and can escape bad guys? So can anyone who has an adrenaline rush. The point is, if a writer shows who the character is, you’re more likely to believe it than if they just tell you who the character is. I could tell you I’m the best juggling astronaut in the world, but I imagine most of you won’t believe me until you see it (Spoiler: I’m not).

But Doug Quaid/Carl Hauser wasn’t the only character that sucked. We never found out why Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) was the villain—and don’t say it was just because he wanted “power” because villains who just want power for no reason are the flattest characters in the world. We saw the resistance leader, Matthias (Bill Nighy), all of two seconds before he got shot and died, so we never found out how he became the leader or why he was resisting. And then there’s the love interest, Melina (Jessica Biel), whose name I literally just had to look up on IMDB because I could not for the life of me remember it. But it wasn’t my fault that I couldn’t remember her name. No, I couldn’t remember because it was only said ONCE in the entire movie. You know how some movies won’t tell you the name of a character until the end because it’s a major plot point? Yeah, this wasn’t one of those movies.

And as for her character development? Biel spoke about her character in a recent interview, and I quote: “This character was really developed, which is surprising for a film like this one.” REALLY? Because I have no descriptor for this character other than “love interest.” What does that tell you? Sit down, Jessica Biel!

And how come neither Lori nor Melina had injuries after punching and shoving the shit out of each other in the elevator fight sequence? For God’s sake, Kate Beckinsale’s hair looks perfect in every scene—like she just left the salon—even though she’s chasing Colin Farrell’s character through the rain, falling down elevator shafts, and what not. I mean, I’ve been hit in the cheek with a softball that was barely tossed at me before, and I had a bruise for weeks; and this movie is trying to convince us that women don’t bruise or have cuts after getting in a fist fight?

Men get plenty roughed up in action movies after they fight, but women never seem to. Why is that, do you think? Is it because there’s an unwritten rule that women in action movies must always look hot? Or is it because they’re saying women don’t fight as hard as men do? Whichever way you look at it, you’re either being fed ideas of misogyny or sexism. Congratulations!

Overall, I feel like this movie was one of those where, if the sound was off, it would seem super entertaining because you’d have no idea what was going on or who the characters were. I only say that because the plot was okay and even interesting at some points of the movie, but I just didn’t give a crap about the characters because they were never really developed beyond their names (if that). It was like they had a perfectly good story and setting, but they just couldn’t fill that story and setting with characters. I’m not surprised this movie flopped at the box office; and I’m fairly certain it’s because of this reason. Even the dumbest audience could see this movie and realize that there’s no substance. Fans of the original Total Recall should just keep watching the original because I doubt they’ll think this movie worthy. Also, Jessica Biel…you might be pretty to look at, but you’re a terrible actress. You will never amount to any movie credibility beyond action movie love interest or rom-com secondary character.

Total Recall: C-

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