Review: Total Recall, totally not the freak show I recall


You would never confuse Colin Farrell with a man-eating chicken.

Total Recall (PG-13, 135 minutes): I know it’s politically incorrect, but when I was a kid, the freak show was the best part about the fair.

You remember the scene. The midway was lined with trailers. They’re all painted  with creepy posters that are made even creepier with speakers constantly spewing monotone descriptions of what’s in the trailers. You have midway barkers rallying crowds. You have the bearded lady over there. Guy with a lizard head over here. Shrunken heads. A sign about a man eating chicken (I got fooled on that one; it was a guy sitting in a chair, eating a drumstick). It was awesome.

So, as I’m watching Total Recall, the remake, I’m realizing why this rehash isn’t working for me. It just doesn’t have that campy charm of the original. The original was a freak show.

In the version released in 1990, Arnold Schwarzenegger took us on a weird journey from Earth to Mars, eluding authorities who were after his memories, leaving us to wonder whether those analog memories were real or Memorex.

It was an adventure filled with implanted tracking devices (Arnold pulled it out of his nose),  a triple-breasted streetwalker, Kuato the deformed humanoid conjoined to his brother’s stomach (over the top, I felt), cheesy mutants, a fistfight with Sharon Stone — you know, the routine scene at a fair midway.

In the recently released version, Colin Farrell plays the lead character and the plot has a more domestic approach, meaning no trip to Mars. It’s set in 2084, but it has more of a gritty Blade Runner/Minority Report feel. The CGI takes out all the cheesy FX moments.

The plot mostly stays true to the original, but it has a few updates. The triple-breasted streetwalker is back. The futuristic bar serves Budweiser. Douglas Quaid/Carl Hauser (Ferrell) gets into a donnybrook with his wife (Kate Beckinsale). He  constantly fights human cops and robotic cops. You’ve got explosions. Some kissy-face. Futuristic Walter White of Breaking Bad. Cheering masses. More explosions.

It’s really not a bad remake. I equate it with trying to update something that was done purposely campy and trying to make it more serious, kinda like Tim Burton’s Batman vision as opposed to the current Dark Knight triology.

It would be like some carny telling me that the man eating chicken wasn’t really a 10-foot-tall chicken that could devour me, but another carny in a freak-show tent gnawing on a chicken leg.

Of course, knowing all that would have taken all the fun out of it.

BEST TIME FOR A BATHROOM BREAK: If you’ve seen one shootout in Total Recall, you’ve seen them all. The robotic cops fire automatic weapons but can’t hit the broad side of a barn. So when the shooting starts, go do your business.

DATE MOVIE: Sure, go ahead. You’ve got handsome people on the screen in Ferrell, Beckinsale and Jessica Biel. They slap each other around for the better part of two hours, but they don’t leave bruises.

BREAKING BAD MOMENT: Brian Cranston plays Cohaagen, and even though he masterminds a world takeover, he’s still not as evil as Walter White.

TAKE THE KIDS? You could. The effects are cool, but it’s video-game CGI. You have one flash of CGI nudity (send ’em for popcorn when Collin heads for the Total Rekall lab). The new Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie would be a better alternative.

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