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David Poland

By David Poland

Review: Total Recall (2012)

As I suffered through Len Wiseman’s latest film, I thought, “This guy isn’t a director, he’s a decorator.”

I didn’t realize that he was, indeed, an art department guy for Roland Emmerich.

Wiseman has one skill and one skill only as a film director. He creates eye candy. But his visuals have all the depth of a breast implant.

The man can’t keep visual track of the action in an elevator. Literally. In this movie, there is a 4 person fight sequence in an elevator and you never know where anyone out of frame at any moment is or what they are doing. This is in spite of big martial arts moves and guns going off. It’s like Police Squad, with the shoot out between people who turn out to be 3 feet away from one another when you see a wide shot.

I’m going to keep this brief, as when I pointed out Wiseman’s directorial incompetence on Live Free Or Die Hard, a mutual friend of mine and his asked me what he had done to me to generate such venom. The answer then, as it is now, is, “Nothing but make that movie.”

The central notion of the film – is Quaid really a spy or is it all a Rekall implanted dream – is answered in the opening sequence… removing any tension or interest in that theme. So the film, by the second act, is reduced to a fairly boring, uninventive chase film. The film is enveloped with a conceit about a world reduced to two countries (not a spoiler… in the opening credits) with the rich and powerful on one side and the rest on the other. But any nod to revolution is as shallow as a toddler pool. This movie, unlike the original bit of psychotic genius by Verhoeven, takes itself insanely seriously, which sucks nearly every ounce of fun out of the thing.

And personally, I was insulted by the 3-breasted woman, whose appearance is just pandering to the memory of a filmmaker who does interesting things.

The third act of the film is an unmitigated disaster. An embarrassment. It is empty, illogical, and worst of all, boring.

Do Jessica Biel’s lips look like pillows of lust? Yes. Does Beckinsale look sharply stunning with repeated ass shots to remind us that she has a great ass? Yes. Colin Farrell’s never been more pretty. And if that’s what you want, buy a fucking magazine.

I was just saying to someone this week, there are directors who have enough of something to make me stay interested, even if I don’t like their early films. Wiseman does good trailer bait. But his sense of story is one step shy of McG-level ADD. And his compositions with the actors’ eyes in focus are like those of a six-year-old with an iPhone. There is not a single visual idea or image here, aside from cool wireless phones, that isn’t a weak reflection of things we have seen in the past done 100x better.

This is not the worst film you’ll see this year. It’s not even the most disappointing film of the summer. But it sucks pretty bad. There are a LOT of other films with better boom-boom if that’s all you’re after.

Now excuse me while I watch the Verhoeven to try to get the flavor of rancid mush out of my brain.

45 Responses to “Review: Total Recall (2012)”

  1. SamLowry says:

    Ha ha ha. So much for the writer of that Time article who said Verhoeven’s version simply doesn’t work in “the world we live in these days”.

  2. David Poland says:

    Verhoeven’s movies are timeless. They may be nuts at times… but they are not tied to a certain era, aside from the effects being limited to whenever a film was made.

    The humor in the first film started with Schwarzenegger as an object… and it got better from there. Beckinsale, who i think can be great, tries 10x as hard, gets 5x the screen time, and makes 1/3rd the impact

  3. SamLowry says:

    6 Mind Blowing Ways ‘Starship Troopers’ Predicted the Future.

    Yes, this ’97 movie is an allegory about 9/11 and The War on Terror. What’s sadder is that many folks still haven’t figured out that it’s a satire.

  4. Joe Straatmann says:

    I just watched the 1990 Total Recall a couple days ago. It’s kind of perfect in its own way. It’s my favorite of Verhoeven’s big budget sci-fi, anyway. I really like Robocop, but it has the occasional disjointed piece. For all the little brilliant pieces of Starship Troopers, there are also points it kind of drags. Total Recall does everything it needs to exactly when it wants to and is damn good at it, and really, the only direction a remake can go from there is down. It doesn’t help that everything in the promos for the remake seem to go with the attitude, “Oh, we recognize the original exists, but we’re doing something different by…… doing almost the exact same thing but using Minority Report as a visual template instead.”

  5. LexG says:

    TOTAL RECALL 1990 is more dated than the Civil War.

    And I used to worship Verhoeven, still kinda do, have all but his first Dutch movie on DVD, have probably seen TURKISH DELIGHT at least 3 times more than any AICN jerkward phony nihilist.

    But with age comes a little compassion, a little perspective, and in the last five or ten years, I don’t find Verhoeven’s TEE-HEE IRONY as funny or “cool” as I did when I was 19 or 25… I still love Basic Instinct, the Dutch movies, and RoboCop… but this sneering “wah wah, everything’s a joke” misanthropy of his can occasionally take on Altman levels of exhaustion. Irony is the worst thing ever. When I was “kid,” I loved Verhoeven because I took the hardcore violence and queasy sexuality DEADLY serious. Now that I rewatch his big Hollywood movies and see he was just goofing on it all, goofing on us, but without that awesome Bay or Berg or T-Scott style embrace of American junk, or that truly fuck-you attitude of Noe or Von Trier, some of his big-dick American movies seem like just so much needling.

    I don’t know, I just don’t go for “camp” or “irony,” and his Dutch stuff and RoboCop did a WAY better job of presenting his brand of secular nihilism than his camp-happy, broader stuff like Recall, Starship, and Showgirls.

    THUS IT IS SPOKEN. Also Wiseman has better compositions and his movie won’t look as LOW RENT as 1990 version did.

  6. anghus says:

    I like the original Recall because it’s gonzo. And while Verhoven is a far better director than Wiseman, you still end up with disjointed scenes.

    For example, the one where Arnold uses the hologram, the henchman stand around him in a circle firing their machine guns…. and no one gets hit?

    And if you have four minutes and really need to laugh, check out the highlights of Arnold’s Total Recall DVD commentary.

  7. sanj says:

    i’m guessing Len Wiseman isn’t getting a dp/30 anytime soon

    > And if that’s what you want, buy a fucking magazine.

    yeah thats what they did – Maxim magazine

  8. Amblynman says:

    It still amazes me to this day whenever I see Showgirls on a “Worst Movie List.”. How can anyone watch that movie and not know its a satire? “I bet it feels weird now not having guys coming all over your tits?”

  9. LexG says:


    Play it real or go home

  10. martin s says:

    The satire/irony card is dragged out by Verhoeven whenever he did something that didn’t click. Robocop had satirical moments, but the points of the main character, (his memory, what it means to be human), did not. Same with Recall.

    But when it doesn’t work, Vehoeven is the first guy out there screaming “You don’t get it! It’s all satire!” because he’s an arrogant ass.

    Watch Robocop, Recall and Troopers, and it’s easy to spot when he’s working with some element in full satire/irony mode, it’s done incredibly well, and when he thinks he’s delivering a “message”.

    As for Wiseman, the guy was an SFX man who timed things out very well. I never thought he would last this long, honestly. I thought he would follow the Jan De Bont trajectory. Unless Recall tanks seriously hard, he’s got at least another two movies in him before he reboots Underworld into a SyFy cable series.

  11. LexG says:

    At least Wiseman shot this in A MAN’S ASPECT RATIO, not that smirking low-rent backwater jerkoff 1.85 that PV whipped out.

  12. Eric says:

    They basically remade this because Inception was a hit, right?

    I’m disappointed to hear it’s not good. I love the original but it is dated. Its ideas would be worth a remake every ten years in the hands of a director with a little vision.

    Is there anyone out there now who can mix social satire and ass-kicking as successfully as Verhoeven did from Robocop to Recall to Instinct to Troopers? Or was he just a product of that specific time in American politics?

  13. palmtree says:

    The problem with satire is that it can have the exact opposite effect…rather than point out how ridiculous something is, people take it as an endorsement of whatever it’s satirizing. Machiavelli’s The Prince was supposedly a satire, but now politicians use it to learn how to grab power.

    And now Starship Troopers resembles the Iraq War? Isn’t it more plausible to say it paved the way?

  14. Nathan G says:

    Excellent review. In fact, it’s better than the movie, which I saw at one of those advance showings. This Total Recall isn’t fun. The first one had Arnold Schwarzenegger going nutty. Colin Farrell isn’t having as much of a good time, and he never busts out.

    The first version is a sardonic look at fhe future, as in: Look what you did to earth, fools, you think Mars is gonna be any better? The new Total Recall is just one extended and incredibly tedious chase scene interrupted only by cheesy dialogue.

    Two things in the review really stood out. The first is about buying a magazine. That’s top-notch. The second is Mr. Poland’s comment about the elevator fight. I thought the exact same thing, as in: What happened to the other people in the elevator?

  15. etguild2 says:

    Nice review…though I am sad for Farrell and Biel. Farrell has worked his ass off the last few years to get another shot as a mainstream lead. I guess it isn’t meant to be.

    Speaking of Verhoeven, is he done directing? BLACK BOOK was phenomenal (and makes a great East-West double feature with Ang Lee’s LUST CAUTION) but it seems every year when I check his IMDB page he has a new project that is just listed as “announced.”

    As much as I love him DP, HOLLOW MAN is certainly not timeless.

  16. Krillian says:

    Once I heard it was Wiseman directing….

    “From the director of Underworld 4!”

    Yeah, I just saw RoboCop and it holds up really well, save for the effects.

  17. SamLowry says:

    “Speaking of Verhoeven, is he done directing?”

    Considering he just turned 74, I’d quote the Magic 8-Ball and say “Outlook not so good”. Which is sad, because I, too, keep hoping for more.

  18. Paul D/Stella says: guesses $23 million for Total Recall this weekend. Not sure how good they at with predictions. That wouldn’t be too good for a movie that cost quite a bit to make. It would also be less than the original made in 1990. It had the best opening weekend of that year, $25.5 million, edging Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

  19. LYT says:

    “And if that’s what you want, buy a fucking magazine.”

    High school kids reading this: “What’s a magazine?”

  20. etguild2 says:

    True Sam. Maybe because of the crazy proliferation of old directors working today….Resnais, Ridley Scott, Eastwood, Woody, and Lumet and Altman till their deaths among many others (I swear, “movie director” must have the highest retirement age of any profession)…I have unrealistic expectations.

  21. anghus says:

    Haven’t seen black book. But I loved Lust Caution.

  22. Razzie Ray says:

    Hollow Man’s pretty bad. And there’s nothing timeless about it.

    And I might be in a small camp here, but I’ve NEVER gotten on board this “Oh, Starship Trooper is actually a subtle satire argument.” It’s a really bad sci-fi action movie with some terrible actors pushing their very limited ranges. It (to me) clearly was the throw spaghetti at the wall approach and see where the audiences land.

  23. etguild2 says:

    Razzie Ray, you obviously haven’t seen the glorious direct-to-vid sequels. Starship Troopers 3: Bug Stomp is a post-modern classic.

    anghus you are missing out! Rent it immediately.

  24. Hendhogan says:

    The thing I loved about the original was the is it/isn’t real. And I don’t think it is.

    It culminates in the scene with the doctor in the hotel room. Everything he says would happen if Arnie persisted happened. And if you watch in the beginning, before Arnie is rekalled, the assistant picks up a slide and gives the throwaway line “Mars with a blue sky, that’s weird.”

    Without the commentary on what is real, the story is rather bland.

  25. matt says:

    Actually, Mars has a blue sky; it’s the planet that’s red.

    I’m in the minority, but I thought the original was fairly mediocre, although it’s too bad they didn’t do it better this time. The problem was that they mostly *didn’t* use the idea about is/isn’t it real. It gets brought up once midway through and that’s basically it. The ending is scientifically ridiculous so you could I suppose claim that it’s all a fantasy, but somehow I think the scientific mistakes were accidental. I had hoped the remake would have really worked the reality/fantasy aspect all the way through, but there’s always the next remake to get it right.

  26. LexG says:

    I GUARANTEE this new one is better than the HORRIBLE 1990 movie.

    GUARANTEE IT. Rachael Ticotin? Give me a break.

  27. Proman says:

    I can’t speak for the remake but the original did so many things right it’s not even funny. Is it dated? Absolutely not.

  28. jesse says:

    Starship Troopers is brilliant in large part because it’s sometimes hard to tell if it’s sincere or not. There’s obviously satire in the “would you like to know more?” bits but the first time I saw it (of many, many times; it’s one of my favorite movies), I didn’t think Verhoeven was actively deriding his cardboardy characters, and I’m still not sure. What’s amazing about it is that on the level of a spectacular violent sci-fi action movie, it rules, but it does have a satirical edge to it that can excuse the soap opera level acting.

    Though I had a film prof in college who was ALL ABOUT Verhoeven yet also didn’t really teach him as this super-satirical jester. He felt that he had genuine affection for the characters in Starship Troopers.

    I really don’t know for sure, which I find really interesting. But Starship Troopers rules and the effects still look great today.

  29. LexG says:

    I liked Dina Meyer’s small manageable rack.

  30. René says:

    As a man who experienced the horror of war when he was a child, Paul Verhoeven must have thought of Starship troopers in a satirical or even cynical way. I can’t imagine that he was serious and enthusiastic about heroes in Gestapo-Uniforms and their pride in dumb fascist symbolism.
    Nearly everyone here in Germany who has seen Starship Troopers believes that there are at least two layers hidden in this movie.

  31. LexG says:

    Yup but that whole “OOOH TEEEE HEEE, IT’S DOOGIE HAUSER dressed like an SS guy, HAR HAR” irony is unfunny, wack, stupid, and tiresome.

    Irony is the end of everything.

  32. René says:

    Maybe you have a point, LexG. But I learned that personal sense of humor is something not worth arguing about. You can’t convince people of the quality of your favorite joke, as hard as you might try.
    What one man finds funny, another man finds tiresome. I’m in the first category when it comes to Starship Troopers.

  33. Krillian says:

    IMDB says Verhoeven will next direct Hidden Force, due in 2013, about a colonial officer going to the island of Java at the turn of the 20th century. He’s also producing The Winter Queen with Milla Jovovich and Anton Yelchin.

    Black Book was good.

  34. cadavra says:

    Um, has anyone bothered to read Heinlein’s novel? STARSHIP is definitely satire.

  35. etguild2 says:

    Yeah Krillian, I believe Hidden Force is the 4th film he’s been attached to after BLACK BOOK, that has no cast or screenplay a year before release then suddenly vanishes..

    Kadavra, wasn’t TOTAL RECALL satire?

  36. christian says:

    I’m not sure Heinlein’s book was seen as satire by many. Heinlein strikes a lot of folks as reactionary.

    And I knew that STARSHIP TROOPERS failed the Satire Test when on opening day – swear – a 15 year old kid leaned next to me and said, “Makes me want to join the fucking military, dude!”

    I get that Verhoven “gets it” – but he wants it both ways in ST. 100 million dollar half-satire so you could enjoy the bugs blowing up real good. Which they did. Still impressive effects.

  37. jesse says:

    I think both ways is an underrated way of having it/wanting it.

  38. SamLowry says:

    Considering that Heinlein was a militarist who believed “an armed society is a polite society”, and Troopers, the novel, was inspired by his opposition to a proposal to suspend nuclear weapon testing (while arguing throughout the book’s endless series of lectures that only veterans should be allowed to vote or run for office), uh, no, the novel wasn’t a satire. It’s currently on the reading lists of the Marines and the Navy and they keep cribbing ideas from the book. And yet the book has–surprisingly!–been accused of being pro-fascist.

    Verhoeven, however, grew up seeing the results of fascism first-hand and obviously decided to take the militaristic book down a few pegs. Unfortunately, the book’s diehard fans are so incapable of detecting satire (perhaps it’s related to the genetic inability of right-wingers to feel empathy, which we talked about a few months ago) that they merely bitch about the decision to exclude power armor from the movie. Everything else is fine with them–the fascism, the Nazi uniforms, the idiocy of fighting on the ground when they can shoot bugs from the air (where’s the glory in that?!?)–because to them it looks like a love letter to the U.S. military. They don’t even realize that in this action movie, WE are the bad guys.

  39. Yancy Skancy says:

    LUST, CAUTION is also streaming on Netflix Instant. I finally caught it a few weeks ago and thought it was great.

    Lex: I dunno, I used to have a crush on Rachel Ticotin, even though I could never quite pinpoint why exactly.

  40. Joe Straatmann says:

    I actually saw Rachel Ticotin in the credits and thought, “Wow, that’s a pretty large role that wound up going nowhere,” but actually, I looked it up and she’s had a pretty decent career. Good for her.

  41. bulldog68 says:

    Man this was an empty shell of a movie. I cared for no one or nothing. Not even the people who would suffer at the hands of Cohaagen.

    In the spirit of not being all piss and vinegar I will say I liked the look of city a bit more than David. The entire movie was not as glossy and shiny as the trailers made it out to be, but as far as positives go, that’s about it.

    especially the last 30 minutes of the movie the line I heard repeating in my head over and over in an endless loop was “Oh, ho ho! You sly dog! You got me monologuing! I can’t believe it… ”

    Fuck, the monologuing was went past the point of humorous to insane.

    And I’m not hating on Colin, but he’s no action star. And that’s want this picture needed, along with a better screenplay and a Director who doesn’t want to watch his wife make out with other guys on screen.

    And one more thing I swear…what a fucking waste of Bill Nighy. His cameo was even more useless than Liam Neeson in Battleship. If you want to see what Nighy can do with a cameo, even in a bad movie, look at this year’s Wrath of the Titans. This movie deserves a box office fate worse than Battleship. I hope Diary with a Wimpy Kid embarrasses it this weekend.

  42. cadavra says:

    ETG: Which version of TOTAL RECALL?

  43. PastePotPete says:

    Starship Troopers was definitely intended as satire. I saw it in a class at USC before it was released, with Basil Poledouris doing a Q&A afterwards. He said Ed Neumeier’s script was intentionally structured to resemble Nazi propaganda films. He also mentioned that Verhoeven chose his main actors by watching 90210 and Melrose Place, with the idea that those shows were populated with the 90s equivalent of the “master race” ideal.

  44. doug r says:

    I dunno. Seeing a book where every other character drops dead but the main character still thinks that the military’s the life for him-that’s satire. It was hard to get more meta than Heinlein.
    As for Recall, the awesome five minutes in zero-g does not a movie make. Is anyone going to make a straight picture based on the actual “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale?” Would be a great Twilight Zone or Outer Limits episode. I can hope JJ Abrams is out there….

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