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Directed by Len Wiseman
Somewhere in Hollywood, there’s a studio executive who apparently visited a memory implantation service and acquired a recollection of some kind of clamoring for a remake of 1990’s “Total Recall.” He should get a refund.
I missed the early press screening while hosting the kickoff meeting for this year’s Sacramento Film & Music Festival’s 10x10 Filmmaker Challenge guerilla filmmaking program and so I dutifully headed out to the midnight screening. Not only is this not a remake that was calling out to be made, it’s also not a film that seems to have needed midnight screenings – the attendance at mine was more like an early Tuesday afternoon.
There was, however, part of the screening that was entertaining: I saw a neat preview for Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” and a lengthy preview for “Skyfall,” the next Bond movie. Both of which were better than the feature presentation. Although the biggest laugh of the night came from the opening credits of “Total Recall” and the production company name “Original Film.”
The new “Total Recall” claims to be based on the last film and also on the original short story by Philip K. Dick, “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale.” But it might just as well have been based on that lesser known work by Jules Verne, “Commute through the Center of the Earth.” This time around, we don’t travel to Mars, we’re given most of the same characters in a post-apocalyptic Earthbound future, in which the only habitable areas left on the planet are around Great Britain and Australia, with the latter labeled “The Colony” and basically acting as a cheap-labor-filled dormitory town for the former. This works by having the inexpensive labor pool travel via what must be the most prohibitively expensive ever public transportation system, “falling” through the planet, past the surprisingly not oppressively hot core, and popping back up on the other side in time to do menial jobs in factories, manufacturing robots that are advanced enough that it’s impossible to accept that other robots couldn’t have already been made to do the assembly work.
Colin Farrell plays Douglas Quaid (the old Schwarzenegger role), who is now a factory worker bothered by dreams more worthy of an action movie star. But his trip to “Rekall,” to inject some spicier memories, backfires when it apparently uncovers an earlier set of memory overrides. Is he a factory worker, a spy, a double-agent, or a factory-working triple agent playing the part of a quadruple agent factory worker? Chances are you won’t really care – you’ll just kick back and watch the mayhem unfold as a futuristic maglev skycar falls onto an oddly non-futuristic current model FIAT 500 (I half expected a J.Lo cameo). This is extreme urbanization that has been depicted at least as well more times than one could track, with 1927’s “Metropolis” and 1997’s “The Fifth Element” coming to mind.
This is a dull, cliché-ridden film, that’s largely just an extended and convoluted chase sequence and which doesn’t improve upon the original. Frankly, you’re better off totally recalling the earlier film.
"Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days"
Directed by David Bowers
In this third installment in the “Wimpy Kid” series, our hero Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) embarks on a summer vacation filled with theoretical plans of unending video gaming but with practical outcomes that are quite different. Caught in a minor lie by his Dad (Steve Zahn), he’s banned from gaming and almost forced into an office internship, saved only by an even greater lie about a seasonal job at the local country club.
These films are filled with low tech, mundane antics that seem life threatening when you’re 12-13 years old, and moderately nostalgic when you’re 2-5 times that age (losing your swimsuit in the pool, trying to wrestle a pot roast away from the family dog, etc.). And they seem to do a decent job of entertaining kids either side of the lead characters’ ages – including older siblings, who probably wouldn’t choose these films if they went out with friends, but who might reluctantly and secretly enjoy them if dragged along to a younger family member’s movie night.
But most importantly, for many parents, they’re almost completely lacking in cynicism and shallow pandering. These are stories in which kids, and sometimes adults, screw up and suffer for it – feelings get hurt, friendships and relationships are threatened, and consequences occur. They’re wholesome in an old-school, prude-friendly way, and quite possibly even a little educational. I overheard a small voice in the audience question a civil war re-enactment scene with “What’s that?” followed by an older voice saying “It’s the Civil War!” and the younger voice continuing with “Is that real?”
The only odd things about this movie, except for an apparent lack of a script supervisor keeping an eye on continuity (people are wet and dry in alternating pool shots, for example) is that Gordon in the lead role seems to have aged noticeably while everybody around him seems to have stepped out of some kind of cryogenic suspension. And it seems like they should accelerate production of several sequels, even if they roll them out over a few years, just to keep these kids vaguely in their current age brackets.
These aren’t complex stories or fancy productions, they’re just wholesome and safe family entertainment that doesn’t feel the need to load the dialog with adult-oriented double-entendres or to introduce situations that cause an awkward need for explanations from parents on the way home. And sometimes that’s all it takes for a winning and low impact family day out.