SKIP Total Recall, the reboot of the ‘90s scifi classic based on the short story by Philip K. Dick from director Len Wiseman. The new incarnation has none of the fun and none of the suspense of the original.
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From the outset, the problems with Total Recall become apparent. The film centers on Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell), a construction worker who is having dreams about a more exciting life, and decide to go to “Rekall,” a company that sells memory implants of a vacation you never actually took. While there, Quaid has a reaction and suddenly he’s living the alternate reality of the implant. This unique storyline from the mind of the great Philip K. Dick made for a great film with twists, turns, action and mystery in its first incarnation. But this time around, we all know the story already, and while there are changes in the new version, they are only cosmetic (the story takes place on Earth instead of Mars, open space is the precious commodity instead of oxygen). As a result, there are no surprise twists here, only the expected ones. We never share Farrell’s sense of bewilderment or self-doubt because the plot never challenges us to.
The lone bright spot in this film is Kate Beckinsale (ironically, director Wiseman’s wife in real life) as Quaid’s wife Lori, who’s at her gleeful, ass-kicking best, like in Underworld, before the Underworld movies started to suck. They wisely combined the characters from the original of Lori and Richter, and Kate fills the shoes of both Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside admirably. Beckinsale is able to do this “I’m gonna get you for that” look where her mouth is slightly open and she’s fixing you with a piercing stare. I imagine she gave Len Wiseman this same look when he told her he was making this picture and she was going to be in it. In any case, she is literally the ONLY thing worth watching is this film.
Beckinsale doing “that look”
The remainder of the cast makes little impact. Jessica Biel is her typically joyless Jessica Biel self. Her one tough-guy line is funny because it’s so atonal to the rest of the film and is delivered so unconvincingly. Bryan Cranston is wasted as bad guy Cohaagen. Ronny Cox was scarier, and that’s not easy to do because Bryan Cranston is pretty scary even without trying. Bill Nighy is similarly wasted, and the film completely marginalizes his character to the point where the only reason he makes an appearance is because that character was in the original.
There are a number of visual and verbal homages to the original, but they largely serve to remind us how much better that film was. The original was fun and cool and different, and still serious enough to tell a completely credible mind-bender of a scifi story. This version is dark and humorless and not all that different from any number of other sci-fi action flicks. Given the raw material the filmmaker’s had to work with, the film gravely underperforms.
SEE Pitch Perfect, the fun look at competitive college a cappella singing groups from TV and Broadway veteran Jason Moore. This light film combines just enough laughs with tons of music to make it an enjoyable picture.
Pitch Perfect has a familiar plot as old as The Bad News Bears: a group of loveable misfits must come together as a team and learn to be themselves in order to triumph. Along the way, their newest member (Anna Kendrick) must convince their recalcitrant leader (Anna Camp) to listen to other ideas, at which point the funny one (Rebel Wilson) cracks a good joke. The character types here are similarly derivative of other teen and college films (Bring It On comes to mind), but the humor works, and nobody should really be watching this movie for the plot anyway.
What sets Pitch Perfect apart is its wealth of good music. Fans of The Sing Off will have plenty to enjoy here, as there tons of a cappella performances, but even in between the signing competition portions of the movie, the soundtrack is loaded with cool mash-ups (a hobby of Kendrick’s character) and the film never leaves you without a beat for very long.
Rebel Wilson & Anna Kendrick
The cast does a fine job. Wilson has gotten praise for her improvised comedy segments for good reason. Kendrick plays a bit against type here, as her character is much more of a disaffected slacker than her usual Type A sorts. Elizabeth Banks is completely hilarious in a small role as one of the announcers at the competition. Blessed with some of the film’s funniest over the top lines, Banks makes them twice as funny by delivering them in a Stepford Wives-ish robotic “isn’t everything wonderful” voice.
Pitch Perfect is a simplistic but aurally pleasing feel good movie with plenty of good natured laughs. It’s definitely worth a viewing, and a listen.