I haven’t seen a film this aggressively mediocre in a while. It’s not actively bad, at least it’s rarely actively bad. And it’s not boring… exactly. It’s hard to put into words why it is so uninvolving.
There are the performances. Colin Farrell is intense and invested in the film, as he usually is. But I never felt particularly worried about him, or empathized with him. He was always at an emotional remove for me. Jessica Biel is, I’m sorry, let’s face it, one of the least charismatic actresses who gets roles like this on a regular basis. I’ve never actually liked any performance she’s ever turned in, even if, sometimes, I like the films despite her involvement. Kate Beckinsale was the best member of the cast, but even she didn’t impress as much as she simply failed to annoy. There’s only so many ways you can glower sultrily at someone before you try to kill them and make it feel fresh.
The rest of the cast is even less interesting. John Cho as a memory implant technician, Bill Nighy as a revolutionary leader, Bokeem Woodbine as an intelligence agent? None of these people are bad actors. They’re just super-poorly cast. Though the award must go to Bryan Cranston as the Big Bad. I haven’t seen Breaking Bad, but if he is as out of his element there as he was in this film, I’m glad I haven’t been watching. Again, a great actor, in the wrong role.
The look of the film is actually pretty great. Though this look was also great in Blade Runner… and The Fifth Element… and Minority Report… and I, Robot. There were even a couple of scenes that seriously stole from The Bourne Identity. I was kind of surprised by how much was stolen from films other than the 1990 Total Recall.
So, now we come down to it. How does this film (directed by Len Wiseman) compare to Paul Verhoeven’s? Well, the effects in this one are clearly better. There’s nothing laughable like Schwarzenegger’s eyes bugging out. And having the Kate Beckinsale character function as an amalgam of Sharon Stone’s faux-wife and Michael Ironside’s goon-with-gun was pretty brilliant. But the newer version is also less interesting. And less fun. There weren’t very many laughs in the 2012 version. Or as much blood. To keep it to a PG-13, much of the violence was directed at robots. [snore]
The story in this one was almost exactly the same. Instead of mutant workers in the underbelly of a Martian city, this was run of the mill workers in an enclave in Australia supporting a nicer enclave in Great Britain. They even get to work every day on a huge science-fictiony device called The Fall, a big cylindrical car that falls from Australia, through the Earth’s core, to Great Britain. Now, the planet’s white hot core aside, that’s actually a fun idea. If only they had included a bit more science in the science fiction. No, there wouldn’t be momentary weightlessness halfway through the journey; the entire journey would be weightless. Hence the term “free fall”. No, you wouldn’t have to decelerate as you reached the other end. You’d have to accelerate to counteract the enormous amount of friction that slowed you down on the journey. (The tunnel is open to the sky at both ends.)
I kept hoping that this reimagining of the story would actually involve some imagination. Gone was the tension in the 1990 film, carried through to the very end, about what was real. Was this all a paranoid delusion, or was it real? I loved that ambiguity. Here? None of that. And there wasn’t any significant departure from the story, either. I wanted the twist to be that the guy the authorities keeps calling a terrorist, but who we know is actually a noble freedom fighter is actually a terrorist. That would have make this film miles cooler. No. Every beat is just like the Verhoeven version, just with an elevator cutting off robotic arms instead of flesh and blood ones.
This film would have been more enjoyable if it was just bad. They couldn’t even get that right.