“Total Recall” review: Some memories you just can’t erase

Colin Farrell in Total Recall

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When a studio decides to remake a movie, it generally tends to be an all-or-nothing gambit. In the best-case scenario, the new film improves on its predecessor’s flaws, offers some surprises, and samples from the story and tonal elements that made the original film so memorable. What usually happens, however, is that the film collapses under the weight of the movie that inspired it, with every similarity and difference judged against those of its predecessor and — more often than not — found lacking.

And that’s why the remake of “Total Recall” hitting theaters this week has two factors working against it: not only was the first film very, very good, but the general public’s threshold for remakes simply doesn’t allow for mediocre imitations, no matter how entertaining they manage to be.

It’s probably worth noting early on that yes, I’m aware that “Total Recall” isn’t technically a remake. It’s actually another big-screen adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. However, anyone familiar with the original story will find that the new film veers even further away from the source material than Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 film, which was itself a loose adaptation.

For those not familiar with the 1990 film or the 1966 story that inspired it, the narrative thread shared by all three projects follows an ordinary guy who longs for something more than his hum-drum life, and decides to visit a company that implants made-to-order memories in your brain. Things go awry, however, when the company’s technicians discover that someone’s already been fiddling with his brain. But is he really a secret agent, or is it all just a part of the adventure he paid for?

And that’s about the extent of what the three projects have in common, with the new “Total Recall” existing as sort of a remix of a remix, with the latest version bearing little resemblance to the original material beyond an occasional sample or recycled verse.

Still, that’s not to say that “Total Recall” is a bad movie. Unshackled from the burden of its title and the expectations that come with it, the movie manages to be an entertaining, action-packed adventure peppered with interesting science-fiction elements. Director Len Wiseman has a knack for creating great fight sequences filled with epic gun battles and moments that slow down, speed up, and zoom in at just the right points to make a scene more impressive than it has any right to be, and Kate Beckinsale is endlessly fun to watch as Lori, the government agent masquerading as the wife of reluctant hero Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell). Her role combines the characters played by Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside in the original film, and the result is a one-woman killing machine who steals every scene she’s in.

Unfortunately, the elements that set the new film apart from its predecessor in positive ways are far too rare, and it feels like the creative team behind the remake never quite recognized what made Verhoeven’s film so great. Time after time, when the new movie has opportunities to push the limits and set itself apart from the previous film, it stops shy of the benchmarks set two decades ago. Basically, it has all the polish and shine of a 2012 movie, but lacks any of the heart and personality that would make it feel like a successor to the original “Total Recall.”

These shortcomings are especially apparent in the changes made to give the project a more mainstream-friendly appeal. Where Verhoeven pushed the limits of the “R” rating with brutal gunfights that left bodies — including scores of innocent bystanders — strewn about in bloody heaps, the new film puts Quaid up against a task force largely composed of lifeless, infinitely replaceable robots. This removes much of the shock and the feeling of high stakes at play in the 1990 film, and instead of wincing at every death along Quaid’s adventure, you’re left shrugging (if any reaction at all) each time a robot is decapitated, blown apart, or otherwise dismembered.

Even the nods to the original film seem forced and included as placeholders to justify the title instead of necessary plot elements that advance the story in any way. The overweight woman who was revealed to be Arnold Schwarzenegger’s disguise in the first film makes a cameo in this one, and so does a triple-breasted prostitute who’s wealth of assets is never quite explained. The film even recreates a few memorable fight scenes from the 1990 film — albeit with Quaid fighting robots instead of people this time around. Quaid also makes passing mention of Mars at one point, which is as close as the new film gets to the Red Planet, opting to ditch the interplanetary adventure of the original film for a mission that shuttles him between two colonies here on Earth.

And though the decision to make the fundamental conflict in “Total Recall” a class war between two Earth colonies instead of Earth and Mars seems questionable (and eliminates the chance to put a 2012 spin on some of the 1990 film’s most iconic scenes), it does provide one of the more entertaining plot devices in the movie.

In the world of the new “Total Recall,” the remaining human civilization is split up between the exploited working class of “The Colony” (Australia) and the wealthy elite of the United Federation of Britain. People travel from one area to the other via “The Fall,” a shuttle capable of going through the Earth from one side to the other. (It’s basically the science-fiction evolution of “digging a hole to China.”) The commute between UFB and The Colony is not only a key element in the film’s plot, but it also serves as a great example of how much potential the film had with some of its more inventive sci-fi elements.

Along with some great scenes that unfold during (and after) commutes via The Fall, “Total Recall” also features some cool pieces of future-world tech which seem to indicate that at least some of the elements that made the original film so great were noticed. Guns that fire glowing, electric restraint harnesses and phones surgically implanted in people’s hands are just two of the many notable pieces of sci-fi tech that earn the film some legitimate sci-fi cred.

For all of its achievements in tech, however, the film falls conspicuously short in the way it utilizes its cast. It seems strange to write this, but Farrell’s take on Quaid shows little of the personality that Arnold Schwarzenegger brought to the role, and Jessica Biel does little to make the role of resistance fighter Melina anything more than a pretty face. Even Bryan Cranston seems criminally underused — or more accurately, misused — as the villainous despot Cohaagen, who spars with Quaid physically, but is rarely given the chance to be the psychological threat we know he’s capable of playing.

Perhaps the most egregious flaw in “Total Recall,” though, is the way it assumes the worst of its audience’s ability to handle uncertainty. Both the original short story and the 1990 film did a masterful job of keeping you uncertain whether the main character’s adventure was really happening, or a figment of his imagination. For every piece of evidence that pointed toward it being a reality, there was a strong argument to be made that it was all in the hero’s mind. The remake removes that uncertainty entirely, and leaves little doubt as to what’s real and what’s imagined in Quaid’s adventure, and relegates that feeling of uncertainty to just another homage to the source material instead of an actual element of the story.

In the end, there’s a case to be made that “Total Recall” would probably be more successful with a different title, as it’s a fun, entertaining sci-fi adventure with flaws that come from the comparison to its source material more often than the movie itself. And no matter how enjoyable of a film it is, those comparisons will be made — and should be made — because that’s the nature of remakes and the gamble studios make when they go down that route.

Does “Total Recall” succeed as a movie? Sure. But unfortunately, the movie never quite succeeds as “Total Recall.”

“Total Recall” hits theaters Friday, August 3, and stars Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Bryan Cranston, Jessica Biel, and Bokeem Woodbine.

Home for the Holidays

Pass the Dysfunction

10 Thanksgiving Movies to Be Thankful For

Gorge on IFC's four-day Sweatsgiving Marathon this Thanksgiving Day Weekend.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

There’s a movie for every holiday (well, maybe not Arbor Day), but Thanksgiving has more than its share. There’s something about a family coming together around an overloaded table that makes for gripping drama and hilarious comedy. Before you tuck into IFC’s Sweatsgiving marathon weekend, take a look at our picks for the best Turkey Day movies of all time. They’re far tastier than Aunt Bertha’s leftover three-bean casserole.

10. ThanksKilling

This ultra low-budget horror comedy about a killer Turkey is the perfect NSFW antidote to heartwarming holiday treacle. Fans of the film’s so-bad-its-good charms helped Kickstart a sequel, ThanksKilling 3. What happened to ThanksKilling 2? Guess the killer turkey ate the print.

9. The Ice Storm

Key parties, family secrets and Nixon masks all converge in one particularly eventful Thanksgiving weekend in Ang Lee’s searing look at dysfunctional families in the turbulent days of the early ’70s. And you thought your post-dinner family games of Trivial Pursuit were tense.

8. Pieces of April

Katie Holmes broke free from her teen drama roots with this indie flick about a young urban misfit who invites her straight-laced suburban family to a big city Thanksgiving dinner. An underrated comedy about the importance of families (be they urban or biological) that also answers the age-old holiday question: canned or fresh cranberry sauce?

7. Tadpole

What is it with Thanksgiving and quasi-incest comedies? 2002’s Tadpole tells the tale of Oscar Grubman, a hyper-intelligent high school boy who has a crippling crush on his stepmother. When he goes home for Thanksgiving, this Oedipal nightmare gets transferred onto a horny cougar chiropractor, and things rapidly spin out of control. A general rule of thumb for the holidays: keep it in your pants, particularly when family is involved.

6. Scent Of A Woman

Al Pacino comes dangerously close to the edge of self-parody in his iconic role as blind ex-Army Ranger Frank Slade, but also scored a Best Actor win in the process. Chris O’Donnell plays the college student who is hired to take care of Slade over Thanksgiving break and finds himself dragged along on an adventure that includes a stop by his brother’s house for a Turkey Day dinner that goes wildly out of control. Hoo-hah! Pass the gravy.

5. The House Of Yes

This psychologically twisted 1997 black comedy helped make Parker Posey a star. She plays “Jackie-O” Pascal, a mentally disturbed young woman who joins her family at their ritzy Virginia estate for Thanksgiving. As a hurricane bears down on the area, Jackie proceeds to go further and further off the rails, capped off by an incestuous encounter with her own brother while they role-play the JFK assassination. With a strong cast and a wickedly sharp script, The House of Yes goes down like a slice of pumpkin pie with a whiskey chaser.

4. The War At Home

This underrated 1996 drama tackled some pretty tough subjects. Jeremy Collier (played by Emilio Estevez, who also directed) is a Vietnam vet back home and dealing with PTSD. Martin Sheen plays his dad, who doesn’t understand that his son came back a little changed. It all comes to a head at the family’s Thanksgiving dinner, where Jeremy pulls a gun on his dad because he wouldn’t loan him the cash he needed to flee the draft. The fact that Estevez and Sheen are father and son in real life only adds to the film’s dramatic tension.

3. Home for the Holidays

Few films capture the mix of dysfunction and warmth that comes with Thanksgiving better than Jodie Foster’s 1995 comedy. Holly Hunter and Robert Downey, Jr. are perfectly cast as a brother and sister weathering uptight siblings, kooky aunts and other family drama with sharp humor and lump-in-your throat tearful moments. We’re not crying. Mom must be cooking her famous onion soup.

2. Hannah and Her Sisters

Widely considered one of the best films in Woody Allen’s vast filmography, Hannah and Her Sisters charts the lives of three very different sisters over the course of three separate Thanksgivings. The holiday serves as a backdrop that reminds us of the ties that bind and also tear us down.

1. Planes, Trains And Automobiles

No movie captures the ups and downs of Thanksgiving quite like this John Hughes classic. Steve Martin plays Neal Page, a high-strung marketing suit who gets paired with John Candy’s slobby salesman Del Griffith as they both try to get back to Chicago in time for the holiday. Hughes was a master of tapping into some very American emotions, and the movie’s climax — where (spoiler alert!) Neal realizes Del has nowhere to go and invites him to come to dinner with his family — is a touching moment that in lesser hands would come off as maudlin.

Star Trek VI

Space Munchies

8 Bizarre Alien Foods From Sci-Fi Movies

Catch the Star Trek movies this month on IFC.

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Some of the best science-fiction movies pose the most important question: what are we going to eat? When humans explore far off planets, it’s inevitable that they will seek out new snacks. Before you catch the Star Trek movies on IFC this month, enjoy this buffet of strange alien foods.

8. Akrennian Beetle Sashimi, Titan A.E.

Titan AE

Titan A.E. reverses the usual science fiction plot by destroying Earth at the start of the movie. Planetarily homeless humans then have to get by however they can, and that includes eating live insects in xeno-cafeterias. Cale Tucker’s simple requests for ketchup, or that the food at least be cooked, fall on deaf alien sensing organs.

7. Klingon Blood Wine, Star Trek franchise



Klingons are what happens when Vikings invent warp drive. Their favorite things are fighting and drinking, and Klingon Blood Wine lets them enjoy both passions simultaneously.

6. Alien Grubs, Enemy Mine

Enemy Mine

20th Century Fox


Aliens just can’t get enough of that delicious insect goodness, and the only thing they enjoy more than biting a thorax in half is offering the other dripping chunk to the nearest disgusted human. Enemy Mine saw Dennis Quaid and an alien bond over roast bug so hard that they ended up having a kid. It’s apparently a more romantic meal than we thought.

5. Kep-mok Blood Ticks, Galaxy Quest

Galaxy Quest



When the Galaxy Quest crew find their fictional starship built by real aliens, they get to enjoy everything they ever acted out on television. Except for poor Doctor Lazarus, who’s saddled with fictional beliefs, an adoring fan, and a big bowl of Kep-mok Blood Ticks.

4. Iguana-Chicken, Stargate




Stargate would spawn an incredibly popular TV series and is one of the few science-fiction franchises to explain why everyone in the galaxy is pretty much “humanoid with bits of stuff on their foreheads.” Another common factor is apparently food. Dr. Daniel Jackson’s professional opinion on a giant xeno-iguana is that it “tastes like chicken” — a sentiment he’d repeat during the rest of the series.

3. Racht, Star Trek franchise




Many aliens seem to insist on eating bugs, but the Klingons are higher-brow (pun intended) than that. A big bowl of “racht” is considered quite tasty, but must be served live and squishy. Any chef silly enough to kill or cook the worms may end up on the receiving end of a bat’leth swipe to the face.

2. Pizza the Hutt, Spaceballs

Pizza the hutt

While also a living, talking character, Pizza the Hutt is the most accidentally horrific food ever filmed. Created as a pun-y joke for Spaceballs, the constantly-dripping Hutt is disturbing enough even before his assistant Vinnie starts eating him. Even Barf finds this pizza disgusting.

1. Humans, Return of the Jedi

Return of the Jedi

Everyone forgets that the Ewoks wanted to eat Han, Luke, and the rest in Return of the Jedi. The cuddly cannibals would go on to become a franchising bonanza, with many kids of the ’80s owning their own toy Ewok Village/”Human Barbecue” playset.


Wild Gigi

Gigi Goes Wild in a Video That’s Too Hot for Facebook

Catch Gigi uncensored Mondays at 10:30P on IFC.

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You may have heard of Bad Grandpa, but this video of Gigi uncut and uncensored would shock the dentures right out of his mouth

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Gigi may be a grandmother, but she’s not the stay home and knit doilies and bake cookies while sipping weak tea type. As anyone who has watched Gigi Does It can tell you, she’s more likely to knit a gimp mask and woo the dad jeans off of every grandpa in Boca without a thought for what the retirement community will think. She has a mouth that would make a sailor blush and isn’t afraid to use it.

Watch this supercut of Gigi’s finest bon mots and bad deeds, but be warned– Gigi is NSFW and Not Safe For Facebook, so crank up the volume at your own peril.

Bob Odenkirk and David Cross in Mr. Show With Bob and David.

Best of Mr. Show

10 Mr. Show Sketches That Were Ahead of Their Time

David Cross returns as Todd Margaret January 7th at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: HBO/Brillstein-Grey

Proving the old adage that anything is possible if you wish hard enough, this month marked the return of comedy pioneers Bob Odenkirk and David Cross to the TV sketch arena with their new Netflix show W/ Bob and David. Featuring many of the writers and cast members (including Comedy Bang! Bang! host Scott Aukerman) who made the ’90s sketch program Mr. Show such an indelible cult classic, the long-awaited follow-up possesses the same sharp, satirical eye as its predecessor.

But in case you’re unfamiliar with Mr. Show and how culturally significant its comedy still is two decades later, here are the 10 most important sketches the series produced. And for more David Cross, be sure to catch the return of Todd Margaret on IFC beginning January 7th at 10P ET/PT.

10. GloboChem

For every faceless, multinational, multi-billion-dollar conglomerate, there are countless daily meetings just like this one: corporate pitchmen and bottomliners brainstorming ways to humanize their company’s image while tapping as many markets and demos as possible. And who better to accomplish this herculean task than a magical, pansexual, non-threatening spokesthing named Pit Pat?

9. The Mr. Show Water Cooler

Not too long ago, CNN was a trusted news source, Fox News languished in cable obscurity, and non-substantive political commentary based on monologue jokes and stand-up bits was relegated to variety shows like Politically Incorrect. But in the years since this sketch aired, comedy news outlets like The Daily Show, The Onion, and Last Week Tonight have become far more in-depth than our current cable news offerings and, according to multiple studies, they command a much more knowledgeable audience. Today, the “Mr. Show Water Cooler” sketch is more of an indictment of the “uninformed, unrehearsed political jam sessions” from the mainstream media than the satirical news shows that skewer them.

8. The Story of Everest

Lanky Jay Johnston undercuts his triumph of scaling Mount Everest by repeatedly falling against two racks of his mother’s thimbles in a mesmerizing display of physical comedy. And the fact there’s not much more to the scene makes it incredible. The overall simplicity of the premise, the realistic bewilderment and frustration of the parents, and how the basic tenets of comedy — timing, heightening, misdirection, etc. — are warped or outright abandoned makes this sketch a fascinating study of subtlety within slapstick.

7. Fairsley Foods

Without the financial resources, tax loopholes, and teams of lawyers that your average retail giant maintains, small family-run shops don’t stand a chance in most free market scenarios. So when a humble local supermarket chain is put in the sights of a mega-mart’s cutthroat smear campaign, there’s not much to do but close down locations and spend a fortune on child-sized tracking collars. The satire of mom & pop’s losing ground to mega-chains is just another example of Mr. Show eerily predicting the future.

6. The Prenatal Pageant

Years before Toddlers and Tiaras and Honey Boo-Boo popularized the alien world of child pageants and pushed the lowest-common denominator to record lows, a sketch like “Prenatal Pageant” seemed like a farfetched (albeit hilariously astute) portrayal of pageant families. But with 21st-century hindsight, Bob and David weren’t too far off from how those starry-eyed, reality show parents would treat a potential embryonic meal ticket.

5. Ronnie Dobbs

Once again, Mr. Show — the satirical prognosticator that it was — anticipated the precipitous decline of our celebrity tabloid culture. Ronnie Dobbs, the oft-arrested redneck who’s had brushes with the law in every state, achieves fame and fortune by simply being a petty criminal on a Cops-like reality show. And honestly, is that really different from today’s reality stars who get ample airtime and exorbitant per-episode paychecks?

4. Mr. Show Boys’ Club

In this biting take on the swinging-’60s sexism that predates Mad Men and is still present in many institutions, “Mr. Show Object” Jill Talley discovers that the Mr. Show Boys’ Club not only parades women around in skimpy outfits and deer antlers (a thinly veiled dig at the Playboy Club), but also offers meager concessions to its young female members. At a time when women are still fighting for equal pay and adequate health care, the sketch is sadly still very relevant.

3. The Teardrop Awards

As a stand-up, David Cross has railed against the cynical marketing in the wake of a tragedy. (Check out his thoughts on American flags post-9/11.) And playing a singer-songwriter who lost his five-year-old son a year prior, Cross explores similar exploitative territory with jubilant acceptance speeches after winning awards for his commemorative songs. A cathartic sketch for anyone who has felt gross after seeing suffering and misfortune capitalized on in the age of knee-jerk social media reactions.

2. The Last American Indian

The last living descendent of an ancient tribe is close to death as government agents watch over him and wait to take his land. All that’s left of his rich and storied culture is the foggy memories of a man in his twilight years — ones that could be confusing history with the film Billy Jack. It’s an incredibly dark and poignant reminder of the civilizations that have been lost and forgotten in the annals of war and subjugation.

1. Pre-Taped Call-In Show and The Audition

While these two sketches may not have the satirical edge of other Mr. Show scenes, they’re both master lessons on sketch writing that have inspired countless comedians. Both penned by Dino Stamatopoulos of Community and Moral Orel fame, “Pre-Taped Call-In Show” and “Audition” feature multiple layers of meta-comedy and gut-busting rage that stems from casually benign misunderstandings. To make a diehard fan out of a person unfamiliar with Mr. Show, simply show them these two sketches that continue to influence everything from Adult Swim to IFC’s own Comedy Bang! Bang!.

Want more comedy from the mind of David Cross? Check out the trailer for the return of Todd Margaret

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