The remake of Total Recall never escapes the shadow of its Arnold Schwarzenegger-led predecessor — and strangely it feels like a choice. With a script that's nearly beat-for-beat the original film Total Recall plods along with enhanced special effects that bring to life an expansive sci-fi world and action scenes constructed to send eyes flipping backwards into skulls. Filling the cracks of the fractured film is a story that without knowledge of the Philip K. Dick adaptation's previous incarnation is barely decipherable. Those who haven't seen Paul Verhoeven's 1990 Total Recall? Time to get a few memory implants. 2012 Recall makes little sense with the cinematic foundation but it does zero favors to those out of the know.
Colin Farrell takes over duties from Schwarzenegger as Douglas Quaid a down-on-his-luck factory worker hoping to escape his stagnate existence with a boost from Rekall a company capable of engineering fake memories. Quaid calls the damp slums of "The Colony" home (one of two inhabitable parts of Earth) but he dreams of moving to the New Federation of Britain a pristine metropolis on the other side of the planet. When the futuristic treatment goes awry — caused by previously existing memories of our blue collar hero's supposed past life as a secret agent — Quaid emerges from Rekall with lethal power hidden under his mild-mannered persona. He quickly goes on the run escaping squads of soldiers robots and his assassin "wife " Lori (Kate Beckinsale) all hot on his tail. Total Recall turns into one long chase scene as Quaid unravels the mystery of his erased memories.
But when it comes to answers and heady sci-fi Total Recall falls short. Farrell isn't a hulking action star like Schwarzenegger but he's a performer that can sensitively explore any human crisis big or small. Director Len Wiseman (Underworld Live Free or Die Hard) never gives his leading man that opportunity. Farrell makes the best of the films occasional slow moment but the weight of Recall's mindf**k is suffocated in a series of fist fights hovercar pile-ups and foot chases pulled straight out of the latest platformer video game (a sequence that sends Quaid running across the geometric rooftop architecture of The Colony looks straight out of Super Mario Bros.). When Jessica Biel as Quaid's former romantic interest Melina and Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston as the power-hungry politico Cohaagen are finally woven into Farrell's feature length 50 yard dash it's too late — the movie isn't making sense and it's not about to regardless of the charm on screen.
The action is slick and the futuristic design is impeccable but without any time devoted to building the stakes Total Recall feels more like a HDTV demo than a thrilling blockbuster. The movie's greatest innovation is the central set piece "The Fall " an elevator that travels between the two cities at rapid speed. The towering keystone of mankind is a marvel but we never get to see it explore it or feel its implications on the world around it. Instead it's cemented as a CG background behind the craze of Farrell shooting his way through hoards of bad guys.
Science fiction more than any other dramatic genre twist demands attention to the details. New worlds aren't built on broad strokes. But Total Recall tries to get away with it in hopes that audiences will recall their own movie knowledge to support its faulty logic. The movie repeatedly prompts viewers to think back to the 1990 version with blatant fan service that's absolutely nonsensical in this restructured version (no longer does Quaid go to Mars but there's still a three-breasted alien?). The callbacks may have given Total Recall a "been there done that" feel but rarely is it coherent enough to get that far. By the closing credits you'll be struggling to remember what you spent the last two hours watching.
While the first two Shrek films scored high praise from both critics and audiences the third installment of the animated saga 2007’s Shrek the Third was widely considered a letdown a signal that Dreamworks’ wildly successful franchise had finally jumped the shark. But that didn’t deter the studio from greenlighting a fourth Shrek film Shrek Forever After with the somewhat dubious assurance that it would be the last to feature the titular green ogre.
The plot of Shrek Forever After in many ways reflects the creative fatigue the filmmakers clearly feel: After fathering triplets with his wife Fiona (Cameron Diaz) Shrek (Mike Myers) has settled into a wearisome domestic routine of morning feedings clogged bathrooms and neighborhood pot lucks. But a domesticated Shrek is a boring Shrek and he soon longs to escape the tedium of family life and return to the carefree days when all the creatures of the forest feared his roar. But how? He's stuck.
Or so it seems until a lispy local charlatan Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn doing a solid Paul Reubens impression) offers Shrek a magical “deal” enabling him to turn back the clock for a day and spend 24 hours without the oppressive dictates of family life which the beleaguered ogre eagerly accepts. But fairytale contracts rarely come without hidden caveats and Shrek soon awakens in a nightmarish bizarro world where his family and friends have vanished and ogres are hunted by vicious gangs of witches. Worst of all Rumpelstiltskin has managed to install himself as Far Far Away’s decadent dictator turning the castle into some sort of crazy lesbian nightclub where his witchy subordinates gyrate to pounding techno music.
Call it It’s a Wonderful Shrek — or even Shrek to the Future if you will. It’s not the most original storytelling scheme but it allows the filmmakers to essentially hit the reset button on the Shrek canon and re-introduce familiar faces like Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) in slightly tweaked form. Fiona is no longer a dainty princess awaiting her savior but the butched-out (this emerges as a trend in the film) leader of an underground ogre resistance plotting to free Far Far Away from its effete Napoleon and his haggish minions. In order to avoid vanishing from history entirely Shrek has to woo her all over again — a task made harder by her newfound independent streak.
Fans of Shrek will be happy to know that Shrek Forever After — its weird butch/femme dynamic notwithstanding — marks a definite improvement over its predecessor. That said it won’t likely inspire any grassroots campaign to convince Dreamworks to reconsider its supposed decision to retire the character for good. The film works partly because it carries more modest aspirations largely shunning the laugh-a-minute pace and copious pop-culture humor that characterized the first three installments. The franchise is clearly running on fumes but this film has just enough laughter in the tank to make it to the finish line intact.
One final note: The 3D aspect of Shrek Forever After is surprisingly mundane adding little to the overall viewing experience. It’s disappointing considering that Dreamworks just recently did such terrific work on the 3D sequences in How to Train Your Dragon. Save your cash and hit a 2D showing instead.
New York's Central Park Zoo's main attraction--Alex the Lion (voiced by Ben Stiller) and his best friends Marty the curious zebra (voiced by Chris Rock) Melman the hypochondriac giraffe (voiced by David Schwimmer) and Gloria the motherly hippo (voiced by Jada Pinkett Smith)--are pampered beyond belief. They enjoy lavish meals and have their own park views. In other words they live in blissful captivity. But Marty isn't as content as his friends. He yearns to live in the wild and when he makes an attempt to see this wilderness firsthand he inadvertently drags his friends into his wild scheme. Soon the animals are darted captured crated and put on a ship to Africa to go live in their natural habitats. Add a quartet of renegade penguins looking for their own wild time and you've got yourself an Animal Planet special. But when the penguins stage a mutiny the four crated pals get accidentally knocked off the boat. They suddenly find themselves washed ashore on the exotic island of Madagascar with the jungle all around them. No daily shows. No adoring fans. And especially no steak served on a silver platter. There is a gaggle of dancing lemurs but that's about it. What's a lion to do? Why eat his best friend of course!
The fun part of listening to celebrity voices is trying to imagine the actors as their CGI-created characters. Stiller finds his inner-lion strutting around as the conceited neurotic but lovable Alex. Rock easily slips into his striped alter ego Marty the "crack-a-lackin'" zebra with the free spirit and the zippy one-liners. And Schwimmer fits Melman's germaphobe personality perfectly-he's the ultimate New Yorker who doesn't want nature all over him. Only the petite Pinkett as the zaftig Gloria is a little hard to picture but Pinkett's sassy attitude comes shining through. The ones who steal the show however are the four plotting penguins lead by no-nonsense leader Skipper (voiced by co-director Tom McGrath). Part Charlton Heston part Robert Stack Skipper has never believed he was a real penguin. But he is determined to get his crew to the "wide open spaces of Antarctica." "Just smile and wave boys smile and wave " is his double-talk for "Let's dig a hole into the sewer and blow this Popsicle stand." Maybe we shouldn't tell them Antarctica really isn't all that great of a place to live.
The folks at DreamWorks still haven't quite been able to top their best Shrek as opposed to their rivals at major competitor Pixar who just seems to be getting better and better. Sure Shrek 2 made a lot more money but it ended up just being more of the same and not quite as funny. Shark Tale was just a frenetic underwater mess. Madagascar with its crazy animal antics comes the closest to matching Shrek's wit and originality especially during the first hour. Directors McGrath and Eric Darnell paint a pretty picture of zoo life if a tad unrealistic. Please has anyone been to a zoo lately? Blissful is hardly the word I would use to describe how animals live. But for the movie's sakes we'll go with it. Yet when the gang hits the shores of Madagascar the pace unfortunately slows down. The fish-out-of-water scenario as the four try to adjust to the wild is hilarious especially tangling with the lemurs. But then it switches gears as Alex's wrestles with his own beastly nature while trying not to bite Marty's butt. It feels tacked on and contrived and doesn't fit in with the rest of the raucousness.