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Posted at 03:35 PM ET, 08/03/2012

Our recall of ‘Total Recall’: Was the first one really that good?


Colin Farrell in the new “Total Recall” ... (Michael Gibson - AP)

My Washington Post review of the Colin Farrell-ized version of “Total Recall” acknowledges that it’s not a particularly great piece of work. But it also says the remake is “a far better film than the [Paul] Verhoeven version” released in 1990.

That review has prompted feedback like this comment on Rotten Tomatoes: “Are you high?”

I’m pretty sure I’m not, but I definitely feel a bit foggy about why so many people adore the first “Total Recall.” And they do adore it, as many of the reviews of “Recall 2.0” indicate.

“The original Arnold Schwarzenegger movie was perfection — a moonbeam James Bond better than any actual James Bond movie,” says Kyle Smith in his new “Recall” review for the New York Post.

Says the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morganstern in his review: “For those of us who saw the original, the problem with watching this totally dehumanized remake, which was directed by Len Wiseman, is that we, too, have a set of memories all our own: specific memories of the 1990 movie — which was clever and playful, as well as exciting and hugely impactful — and general memories of a time when going to see an action-adventure could be giddy fun.”

And the headline on Tom Carson’s GQ review zooms right to the point with: “I Totally Recall Having More Fun the First Time.”


... and Schwarzenegger in the one everyone thinks is better. (Columbia Pictures)

Honestly, I can see how, in 1990, “Total Recall” might have seemed fun.

In 1990, most of us were not savvy enough yet to think that a woman in an airport could unzip her face and — holy @&!# — Arnold Schwarzenegger would pop out. Or that there was such a thing as a three-breasted woman. Or that taxis not only could be driven by robots, but would be readily available in plentiful droves.

When some people watched things like that happen on a big screen, they felt like they were experiencing some fresh brand of cinematic insanity. And apparently that feeling was all-encompassing enough for them to forget about the awkwardness of the scene at the rock quarry, the minimal character development and the fact that Sharon Stone, while very attractive, is pretty rotten in this movie.

Whatever seemed compelling back then simply does not hold up when we revisit it in 2012. Now “Total Recall’s” effects look pretty pedestrian. In the post-Schwarzenegger-as-box-office-hero era, his performance seems even clunkier than it did the first time. And in terms of matching the tone of Philip K. Dick’s short story, “We Can Remember That for You Wholesale,” it’s not even close. That’s why I think the new one is better; it improves a bit on all three of those fronts, especially the performance front.

Yet many people and esteemed critics still, as Morganstern said, have in­cred­ibly fond memories of “Recall” 1. This is what nostalgia does: It colors certain films in distinctly rose-and-golden hues so that we remember them as being far, far better than they actually were. (Note: that statement obviously does not apply to my feelings about “The Lost Boys.” Because that movie still empirically rules.)

I absolutely agree with those who think the new “Total Recall” goes too far to the other extreme, ditching the residue from all that punny humor and taking itself so seriously that it squeezes a lot of the fun out of the proceedings. I would have been okay with that if the film felt like more of an intellectual exercise. But it doesn’t.

Really, the best possible version of “Total Recall” would be one that lies somewhere in between the 1990 take and the 2012 update: one that engages the mind and boasts realistic performances, but that also doesn’t forget to crack a joke once in a while.

Perhaps someone will make that movie at some point, after audiences have managed to forget that we’ve already seen “Recall” twice.

Until that day comes, please feel free to post a comment and tell me what you think about the original “Total Recall.” Am I totally off the mark in thinking it isn’t so hot? Or, like that Rotten Tomatoes commenter, are you also currently launching a formal inquiry titled “Is Jen Chaney high?”

By  |  03:35 PM ET, 08/03/2012

Categories:  Movies | Tags:  Total Recall

 
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