Total Recall 2012

Yes, it’s that time again – having watched some bad sci-fi movies, I desperately feel the need to rant and share the pain. The frankly terrible Looper was going to be next on the list, but on request, instead I’m pushing the 2012 remake of Total Recall to the top of the list.

Total Recall takes place in a future where much of Earth has been rendered uninhabitable, forcing humanity to take refuge in one of two places – the Colony (Australia) and The United Federation of Britain (UFB) – linked to each other by a tunnel bored through the very planet itself (trust me, we’ll come back to this). Douglas Quaid is a factory worker who spends his days commuting from the Colony to the UFB to help build robot soldiers. He has a stable job and a loving wife, but his nights are plagued with recurring dreams about a fraught escape from the authorities with a mysterious woman.

At this point, much pain could be saved if Quaid just forgot all about his dreams, packed up, and went home. Instead, he finds himself intrigued by a co-worker’s recommendation of a session at Rekall – a company who specialise in implanting false recollections far more exciting than the humdrum memories of working in a factory. Quaid decides he’d like to “remember” being a secret agent, but reacts badly to the whole Rekall experience when it turns out that he actually *is* a secret agent, and the life he’s currently living is just a sham. Cue chase scenes, explosion, and more bad physics than you can shake an infinitely long rod at.

And now, with that introductory material under our belt, we can get down to just why this movie is so laughably bad. As the Rekall process goes wrong, a bunch of generic goons conveniently flood into the Rekall facility to stop Quaid before he starts remembering his past life and presumably becoming a danger to whoever erased his memories in the first place. Fortunately, Quaid automatically recalls enough of his advanced training to dispatch all of them without a hitch and return home to his wife Lori. By this point, it’s all over the news that a terrorist has killed 20 men at the Rekall facility, and Quaid confesses to his wife that it was actually him. He’s quick to add that it’s not as ridiculous as it sounds – it was only a modest ten men, hardly worth bragging about.

Naturally, Lori isn’t what she seems either – the factory worker life that Quaid has been living for the last six weeks is a lie, and she is actually a police officer set to watch over him. Now that the sham marriage is over, she’s a bit ticked off by the whole thing, and immediately sets about trying to kill him.

At this point, you might wonder, as I did, why Quaid was kept alive for six weeks under an elaborate charade if all that was going to happen was that he would get killed eventually, but in fact, Lori is acting on her own on this one. Quaid is meant to be kept alive, but for some reason, this just isn’t good enough for her. It may just have been that the sex was particularly bad during the fake marriage, but whatever the cause, Lori spends the entire film pursuing Quaid with lethal intent.

Anyway, before we continue, there are already many points to be raised (and bear in mind I still haven’t started on that tunnel through the Earth yet). Quaid has only been working at the factory for six weeks, and yet as far as he is concerned, he has done this job for years. True, his best friend seems to be in on the ruse, but what about everyone else working there? Wouldn’t they have treated him like a newbie rather than an experienced worker? As an aside, if all his training and expertise for the job came from fake memories (which I’m not going to rip apart despite their own issues), why bother training anyone? Instead of letting the new guy who Quaid has to mentor risk his life not knowing how to weld properly, why not give him the memories of an expert worker? It might be a bit expensive, but it would probably pay for itself in time.

Equally bemusing is a scene early on clearly included only to raise our suspicions, in which Quaid is called into his boss’s office to sign a piece of paper saying that he knows he’s working on classified robot soldiers, and that he has no ties to the organised resistance group fighting against the UFB. Surely any worker would have to sign the robot soldier NDA before starting work on them, not at some random point during their contract?

But anyway, enough digression. Given that no one bothered to tell Lori that her charge had advanced combat skills (not to mention main character levels of luck), Quaid is able to escape from her and flee into the town. Indeed, there is a lot of fleeing in this film, and much of it involves smashing and crashing through all manner of things, from elevators to walls. Given how easily it all gets broken, I can’t help feeling that the buildings of the future are extremely shoddily built. Unlike the people, of course, who regularly stand near explosions but never get so much as singed.

Lori isn’t too worried about chasing after Quaid, though – all she needs to do to track him is activate the phone that he has embedded in his hand. Aside from this being an extremely inconvenient place to store a phone (and it also looks bulky enough to be noticeable and uncomfortable), it seems that Quaid has gone these last six weeks without even noticing its presence. But now that it’s back online, he has to press his hand against a piece of glass to receive a video message from an ally, telling him he has to deactivate his phone and get “the key”. Way to be cryptic and vague, Random Ally.

For some reason, I was expecting there to be handset removal (pun intended) stores on every street corner (akin to all those shops that advertise phone unlocking in the window), but in fact, the procedure seems to be to dig the phone out of your hand with a sharp object. Luckily, this has no long-term detrimental effects on his hand; then again, in his past life he also took a bullet right through the hand, and if that didn’t shatter the bones, ruin the nerves and generally require extensive reconstruction, what would?

Suitably stripped of mobile communications device but armed with the number of a safety deposit box, Quaid heads over the bank to recover his stash of Convenient Plot Items. Amongst them is a recording from his past self, directing him to go to his old apartment. Given that this was recorded by past-Quaid after he was captured, how did it even get to the safety deposit box? Was it the convenient work of Random Ally (who, incidentally, gets killed towards the end of the film, long after I’d forgotten his significance)?

Unfortunately, Quaid messes this up, attracts police attention and has to be conveniently rescued by the arrival of Melina, the mysterious woman from his dreams. After some chase scenes ripped from inspired by Minority Report, Melina and Quaid escape Terminator Lori and her relentless pursuit and make it to the Apartment of Exposition.

Luckily for all concerned, Quaid feels inspired to play the piano, and discovers a secret recording from his past self that was designed to answer all his questions. Apparently, Quaid was once Carl Hauser, a UFB agent working for the evil Chancellor Cohaagen – you can tell he’s evil because a) he’s a chancellor and b) he has a double ‘a’ in his name. Quaid/Hauser’s role was to infiltrate the Resistance, but when he found out that the UFB had nefarious plans to use robot soldiers to invade the Colony and claim its living space for the British, he switched sides and instead vowed to help Resistance leader Matthias by delivering a kill-code that could switch all the robot soldiers off. This highly convenient kill code is now lodged somewhere in Quaid’s brain, and it’s up to Melina – who is of course a Resistance member and Quaid’s lover – to take him to Matthias so that it can be extracted.

Now, at this point, you might be wondering why Cohaagen didn’t just have Quaid killed instead of going through the whole memory erasure thing (not to mention why such a kill code even exists), but in fact, all of that was just an elaborate ruse to get Quaid and Melina to lead the UFB forces to Matthias’ secret lair in the poisonous wastelands of “somewhere else in the world”. For reasons that defy simple strategical sensibility, the Chancellor himself heads up this mission to capture Matthias, which, given his important role as head of government, seems unlikely in the extreme. Why would he risk himself like this, instead of sending in highly trained agents? Oh right, it was, of course, to gloat at Matthias, and reveal to Quaid that, as Hauser, it was his idea to get his memories wiped to make his kill code story more believable. Quaid naturally denies having anything to do with this headache-inducing plot, later claiming that the fact he didn’t completely forget Melina means his feelings for her (and hence sympathy towards the Resistance) must have been real. I’m not sure I buy it myself, but whatever – this film isn’t about exploring the deep complexity of its characters.

Anyway, Matthias dies, Melina is captured, and the stage is set for the final confrontation in The Fall – the tunnel connecting the Colony and the UFB. Yes, the time has finally come to discuss this infamous tunnel, which apparently allows passage from one side of the Earth to another through both mantle and core in just 17 minutes, with normal gravity at both ends and a ‘gravity reversal’ near the centre. Even assuming such a tunnel could be built, there are several problems with this that mean it would be far, far easier just to fly around the globe. That would also spare us the pain of a final battle where Lori refuses to die, Cohaagen launches his invasion by personally being on the one vehicle seemingly carrying all his robot soldiers to the Colony (almost as stupid as the whole kill code thing) and, worst of all, Quaid and Melina actually blowing the escape hatch on the Fall whilst still inside the Earth’s core. Even if the mysterious and magical material that the tunnel is made of protects them from the heat and pressure, the velocities and accelerations involved in this journey would mean that sticking your head out of the window would be a bad idea indeed.

Still, our heroes being heroes, they manage to defeat all the tricks the bad guys have up their sleeves, defy the laws of physics, destroy the Fall (maybe the tunnel isn’t that resilient after all) without incinerating all the gawking crowds in the Colony (maybe they all died of radiation poisoning later) and live happily ever after – probably. Of course, the whole thing could have been just a dream – but if I had to suffer through these events, I don’t see why the characters shouldn’t have to as well.

So once again, my two hours of experiencing this film means that you have been warned – you don’t have to make the same mistakes. As necromancer1983 remarked when I mentioned I would be seeing it I hope you have a good night tomorrow, though I doubt it when that’s the film.”

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