(On Cable TV, May 2013) Nobody asked for this remake, but as it turns out, this updated take on the fondly-remembered eighties horror/comedy is pretty good on its own merits. Fright Night pleasantly skips over most of a conventional first act as the teenage protagonist quickly discovers that his preposterously charismatic neighbor is a vampire. Mayhem quickly ensues, in good bursts of memorable action beats. The film’s biggest asset is probably Colin Farrell, all animal magnetism as the vampire antagonist. The teenage protagonists are competent enough to make us root for them, but Farrell is the one who holds the picture together, proving once again that a strong antagonist helps a lot in defining a movie’s impact. The pacing of the film gets faster and better as it goes along, while the direction has a few noteworthy touches here and there –the best being a quasi-subjective chase sequence in which our screaming protagonists are stuck in an SUV trying to escape a relentless opponent. The deserted Las Vegas suburb in which the film takes place adds an unusual creepy atmosphere, while the 3D effects aren’t too obtrusive when seen on a flat screen. While this new Fright Night isn’t and won’t become a classic, it’s a well-executed film that does not dishonor its inspiration. There have been considerably worse horror remakes out there in recent years, and this isn’t one of the bad ones.
(On-demand Video, December 2012) Nobody was really demanding a Total Recall remake when the 1990 Verhoeven film still holds up pretty well. But there’s no explaining Hollywood, and taking the film as-is rather than try to protest its existence is a good first step toward lowering one’s blood pressure. So it is that this 2012 version is most notable for its jazzed-up visual density: The 1990 film was made before the commodization of CGI, but this new version is filled with complex virtual environments, multi-layered visuals, swooping cameras moves, dazzling tracking shots and a tremendous amount of polish. (Also, alas, gratuitous lens flare.) It works insofar as the production design offers one of the most fully-realized vision of an Earthbound future since maybe Minority Report: robo-soldiers, hand-phones, surface-projection, skyways, interactive holograms, trans-core travel, hurrah! Never mind the lousy science of the film: the action sequences using those gadgets are quite nice: director Len Wiseman is adept at using the tools at his disposal to set up some impressive mayhem, and this translate into a number of remarkable shots, whether the characters are chasing each other through multidimensional slums, driving flying cars in future London, battling robots in three-dimensional elevators or using guns to propel themselves (unrealistically) in zero-gee. Collin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel all do well in their respective roles; you can even argue that Farrell, in particular, is quite a bit more credible in this particular everyman role than Schwarzenegger was in the original. Sadly, much of this Total Recall’s strengths are purely visual or superficial. When it comes to plotting, internal logic, world-building, character motivation or even moment-to-moment fun, this Total Recall is noticeably worse than the original’s sometimes-goofy charm. Making little attempt to truly go beyond the dream-logic of its progenitor, this remake frequently feels dull from a storytelling standpoint, especially for those who remember the original clearly. Still, especially for futuristic action junkies, the remake isn’t a complete waste of time: It frequently looks great, and it’s a decent showcase of what’s now possible when you throw enough special effects at the screen. It’s worth a look, but not a thought.