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By-The-Numbers Junk

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Total Recall
Starring Colin Farrell, Kate
Beckinsale, Jessica Biel

FAR LESS THAN PERFECT: Jessica Biel and Colin Farrell churn out far-from-perfect entertainment in the ‘Total Recall’ remake. Courtesy photo

There are no new ideas! it’s what we hear from the kind overzealous film fans who would have one believe Hollywood is incapable of producing anything other than prefabricated variations of stories that have been told many times before. It’s one of the most labored and frequent film discussions these days revolving around the frequency of remakes, reboots and re-imaginings.

Such discussions make me think of Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.” Everyone believes the previous era contained a kind of creative purity which supposedly no longer exists. Painting with such broad strokes rarely yields any truths, and in defense of these productions, not every remake is a tired, pointless endeavor. On the other hand, “Total Recall” embarks on Exhibit A for the prosecution. Don’t worry, I left my soapbox at home; the rotten fruit, thrown out. I’m not here to crucify anyone or use this mediocre movie as the lynch pin in some larger argument. I’d rather examine the inspiration behind the creation of this monstrosity … more on that in a minute.

The original “Total Recall” remains a cheese-ball classic—a clever idea inspired by a Phillip K. Dick story (“We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”), starring the biggest action star in the world at the time, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and directed by the wonderfully subversive Paul Verhoeven. Brutally violent, it shows some wonderfully ridiculous action sequences, with the kind of ham-fisted acting expected of a movie featuring a catchphrase-spewing Austrian bodybuilder. The plot’s simple enough: A regular working Joe dreams of a more exciting life. He goes to a service called “Rekall, Inc.” where they implant exciting memories into the mind—kind of like a virtual vacation. Something goes wrong, and soon the average Joe learns he may be a spy. The movie plays with the idea that this may be nothing more than the product of an implanted memory.

The “Total Recall” remake marks a sad attempt at toning down the over-the-top science-fiction elements to create a more grounded, gritty setting. And the movie suffers greatly for it. Arnold gets replaced by Colin Farrell, a fine actor and credible action lead, sure. But, unlike Arnold, he has no fun with the material at all. There’s a dead-seriousness to everything in this remake that sucks every last ounce of potential fun from the finished film. The original almost had no polish; the remake is nothing but. Visually, it’s as impressive as any $200 million-budgeted monstrosity should be. The action sequences are massive, though disjointed and poorly staged.

The question that kept creeping up while watching it is, “Why?” Why did they remake it in the first place? I’m not playing armchair studio executive here; it’s more morbid curiosity about what happens between inception and reality. There’s a cheesy, 1990’s sci-fi action film—successful nonetheless—which made for less-than-perfect entertainment, but enjoyable still. So much of the original film has been cut away that it’s almost baffling to try and figure out the motivation behind a remake. The filmmakers don’t improve on the original; they don’t build on it. They reduced it to the most bare components and played the material so deadpan, it practically gets strangled by its seriousness.

I can forgive a big-budget for many failings. I don’t expect Oscar-caliber performances, and trust me, with a supporting cast featuring Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel, none will be given. Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”) seems to be making a bid to become the most disappointingly used actor in film today. I hope he’s getting paid well, because after seeing him pop up in throwaway films like “Total Recall” and “John Carter,” I’m wondering if he doesn’t need to re-evaluate his management team.

If nothing else, the movie has to be fun, and I’ll take stupid fun over serious boredom any day of the week. Give me a ‘roided-out Arnold Schwarzenegger killing a guy with a drill while shouting “screw you” in an accent so thick it’s practically unintelligible over a perpetually frowning Colin Farrell and a $100 million worth of special effects.

Len Wiseman is a terrible director. He can create some pretty scenery, but he populates it with nothing but noise. As remakes go, it’s a fascinating mix of revolting reverence. There are all these moments where they pay homage to the original by referencing some of its more iconic scenes. They bring back things like the three-breasted prostitute acknowledging the existence of the previous film. But all that does is remind us of how much fearless fun the original had been—not this by-the-numbers, soulless piece of junk taking space in my cerebral cortex.

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