Why the old Total Recall is probably way better than the new Total Recall

With the unwelcome Colin Farrell remake of Total Recall weeks away, StudioCanal have shrewdly decided that now is the time to re-release the original. Before the glittering, videogame CGI which will populate Len Wiseman’s effort, there was the clunky, analogue, retro-future vision from late 80s/early 90s staple Paul Verhoeven, a future in which taxis are driven by creepy robotic mannequins, trains have bulbous CRT television sets running commercials, the planets of the solar system are common holiday destinations – and an unusual company offers to implant any synthetic memory you might wish, for the right price.

And guiding us through this trashy sci-fi fairytale are some of the biggest names in 80s/90s blockbuster cinema: Sharon Stone as the femme fatale, Michael Ironside and Ronny Cox as the villains, and, naturally, Arnold Schwarzenegger in the starring role. Mr Universe leads perhaps the most quintessential 80s cast ever, and he is on fine form – perhaps his best role outside the Terminator films. His unique screen presence and liberal take on the art of acting is worth the DVD price alone (as is the now infamous DVD commentary, where you can hear Arnie drop such wondrous gems as “Dis is me on da screen here”).

Based on Philip K Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”, it is not as thoughtful or considered as the Blade Runner, the first film to be based on the sci-fi author’s stories. Verhoeven was never a light-touch filmmaker and much of Total Recall is about as subtle as a lump of space rock – be it Rob Bottin’s indelibly mad mutant prosthetics, the garish lipstick-red Mars miniatures, or the frequent, bloody, noisy violence. But beneath such bombastically indulgent action lies a veneer of surprising philosophical depth.

With Dick’s source text as a starting point, there are some mind-bending moments, including perhaps most memorably the scene in which Quaid is confronted by the sinister Dr. Edgemar, whose outlandish pronouncement that “you’re not here, and neither am I” nimbly challenges the perceptions and preconceptions of both Arnie and the audience, to an extent rarely found in popcorn cinema.

Like much of the oeuvre of Schwarzenegger and Verhoeven, it’s difficult not to sometimes lapse beyond your disbelief suspension when watching today – will our future really contain such big hair and poor fashion sense?, etc. But as long as you can accept some of retrospectively ludicrous elements as kitsch appeal, then you can accept Total Recall v1.0 as a stone-cold cult classic, a movie to riotously and robustly entertain whilst also provide smidges of philosophical morsels to chew on.

Project X: “maybe the worst film of the year”

Let’s be blunt: Project X is maybe the worst film of the year so far. It opens on a sweater-vested douchebag clutching his crotch, singing the lyrics to “Hey, We Want Some Pussy” before boasting to camera about how wet his dick is going to get that night; any doubts you might have had about the the tone of the movie are quickly quashed. Like an unfunny Superbad, it takes the geeky-virgins-attempt-to-get-laid-at-a-party template of time immemorial, and slaps on a zeitgeisty ‘found footage’ format, a mould which has no real value. Neither, really, does the film itself.

Project X was unsurprisingly produced by The Hangover director Todd Phillips, no stranger to obnoxious, high-concept, low-integrity party movies, and rather more surprisingly co-written by Michael Bacall, who did a far better job in authentically depicting young people as co-writer on Scott Pilgrim vs the World and 21 Jump Street. It’s since emerged that Project X was conceived during Bacall’s time off from Pilgrim, and this makes sense – it seems like an afterthought, a film forged on the extreme fringes of credulity and morality.

Amid copious sequences of frenetically edited tits-’n’-puke party montages lies the most basic of stories: three friends throw a party. Said party gets insanely out hand. That’s about as far as any plot goes, really. Like most cinematic parties, it is told from the horny male’s perspective; the unfortunate females must all be relegated to promiscuous oiled-up bikini roles, zero-dimensional supporting characters willing to strip off whatever little clothing they’re wearing and jump into the pool at the mere sight of a “naked girls only” sign. (That sign actually appears in the film, and the girls actually oblige.)

You don’t have to be the world’s biggest prude or a Germaine Greer-level feminist to be offended by Project X. It is a film with a severely de-magnetised moral compass. The only character any reasonable human could sympathise with is a young father living opposite who politely requests the party ends as his newborn baby is being kept awake at midnight. Naturally, he is the elected antagonist, booed off the steps of his neighbour’s house like a pantomime villain – though not before being tased by a teenage security guard.

Some sympathy must also go to the hapless parents whose house is mercilessly destroyed – set on fire, in fact – by thoughtless morons; for a film with a narrow target audience of young people, it’s astonishing how old it makes you feel. The filmmakers clearly hope you cheer on the partygoers – instead you will find yourself yelling at the screen “keep the noise down, you kids!”

But putting aside the pointless found-footage format, the toxic misogyny, the lack of any structure or narrative and the absence of even remotely likeable characters, it is quite simply not funny. In 88 minutes, I did not so much as raise a smile. For a comedy, this is inexcusable. The kindest thing you could say about Project X is that the cinematography is quite good. But then why be kind about something so mean-spirited?

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