August 24th, 2014

Dave's 25₵ Video Reviews #2 - Total Recall 2070: Machine Dreams

Dave's 25₵ Video Reviews

Total Recall 2070: Machine Dreams

I'm a sucker for anything in any way related to Philip K. Dick, even a tangential attempt to cash in on one of the worst adaptations of his work. Total Recall was, by my lights, a wretched burlesque of a science fiction masterpiece, with big, stupid, Ahnolt and his ever-ready space-blaster as the worst possible “actor” ever to take on one of PKD's paranoid, shifty losers. Steve Buscemi is my idea of a PKD protagonist.  Every last one is a depressed fuck-up whose wife or girlfriend is leaving him the same day he gets fired. Meanwhile, he's in the middle of trying to put the pieces of a collapsing reality back together.

So I was pleased to see right out of the gate that this Value Brand can of movie steals everything from Blade Runner, rather than Total Recall. And I do mean everything: set, characters, plot, the works... imagine Blade Runner as made-for-TV on one of those dumb cable science fiction channels and you've pretty much got the picture. (NOTE: Just googled it. That's exactly what it was. In fact, t became a TV series.) Film noir with androids acquiring human intelligence, a little softcore porn in the hopes of getting some Cinemax reruns, and lots of firing of revolvers in shadows cast by blue neon lights in empty warehouses. A hostage situation with evil androids and a teleathic 12 year-old boy.

The CGI is pretty cheesy and it looks like it was shot on video. And, what's a more serious flaw in any Phil Dick adaptation, the paranoia doesn't run deep enough. I was hoping the detective's wife would turn out to be one of the next-level androids, that she'd been planted to keep him off the case—there's an annoying subplot about how she's always trying to get him to leave it alone because her father was killed by an android—or that his bosses would turn out to be in the pocket of “the Consortium,” but no such luck. It plays it too straight. It hits every convention of detective noir (the partner who gets killed, the boss telling him to step off, etc.), but there's no femme fatale and it misses out on the moebius strip plot, which is what we all love about PKD.


But you know what? I still kind of enjoyed it. Mainly because of one performance... SPOILER ALERT: (ha, like anyone's going to see this dog), the only 'droid among the good guys is his new partner.

(I forget the detective's name already; he's played by a guy who was on Ally McBeal. He's not bad, but like Tom Cruise or even—blasphemy, I know—Harrison Ford, he's just too good-looking and sort of normal and well-adjusted. If I can't have Buscemi, what about Willem Dafoe? Harvey Keitel could do a great PKD protag. But I fall into an alternate reality.)

The best role by far is that of the android cop, played by a guy named Karl Pruner. I need to see what else he's done. I've never been less surprised by a reveal than when he turns out to be the new model non(?)human, but he's still really fascinating to watch. He's like the most awkward, dorky, by-the-book FBI stuffed shirt ever, but you start to realize he's insanely astute and competent. It's a very interesting performance.

 So I can only recommend this one to hardcore Philip K. Dick fans. It's pretty terrible. I'd say it's almost one tenth as dumb as the very best Star Trek film. But if you're one of us, you simply must see every adaptation, derivation or theft of Dick's work or ideas, no matter what an unworthy vessel. You know who you are. Nothing I could write would keep you from watching this.

The rest of you, go watch Star Wars.