There comes a point when the careers of most action movie stars take a downturn, relegating them to direct-to-video drivel struggling to recapture even a fraction of their former glory, but in the case of Wesley Snipes, it feels more depressing because he can actually act. He didn’t HAVE to do action to be successful, but that’s where he’s been pigeonholed, so now he’s gone from Mo’ Better Blues to (sigh) The Recall.
This is a sci fi-horror-action hybrid about a group of 20-somethings (including Breaking Bad‘s RJ Mitte, who sadly spends the entire movie in pain, incapacitated or just inept) headed to — you guessed it — a cabin in the woods, and wouldn’t you know it, bad stuff happens! Initially, it seems that bad stuff will come courtesy of Snipes’ backwoods recluse character, referred to in the credits as “the hunter” but named Nash according to a newspaper clipping briefly shown in one scene. Rather than be a typical backwoods horror baddie, it turns out he’s a former astronaut and alien abductee whose particular set of skills will come in handy because the kids’ getaway unfortunately coincides with a global alien invasion.
It’s a race-neutral role that doesn’t specify anything about Nash being black, and given that backwoods, truck-drivin’, deer-huntin’ hillbilly types are typically played by white actors, this is a refreshing change of pace. Snipes’ presence in general is the main draw of the film, as he injects some semblance of energy and humanity into a cast of characters that ranges from insufferably sad-sack to insufferably obnoxious.
He almost raises the quality of the movie too much, because it otherwise dovetails into SyFy-level “so bad it’s good” territory, with questions raised like:
- If they’re going to a cabin by a lake, why do they have surfboards?
- Why do they assume Nash’s cabin is abandoned when there is clearly a row of fresh animal hides hanging outside, not to mention a working military radio and Doppler radar inside?
- Why does the alien ship abduct just one of them, when three other people are standing right next to him?
- Did one of them just tell the guy with a bear trap on his foot to “Stay here”?
- When Nash explains to the kids that he was abducted years ago and given special abilities by the aliens, why would one of them say, “I don’t believe you” when they PERSONALLY JUST SAW THEIR FRIEND ABDUCTED BY A UFO, HAD A CLOSE ENCOUNTER WITH SOME JELLYFISH-LOOKING ALIEN DRONES AND THEN BARELY ESCAPED AN ALIEN WHO BROKE INTO THEIR CABIN?!?!
The biggest question, though, might be what exactly the aliens’ game plan is and frankly, what’s so bad about it? It seems they periodically take humans and give them “upgrades” that are essentially responsible for human evolution. At this point, they’re basically giving people superhuman strength and healing ability. Sooooo…why exactly are we rooting against this? A race full of Wolverines doesn’t sound like such a bad thing.
The effects in The Recall are pretty well done, but it seems like the filmmakers blew their budget on a couple of big scenes (not to mention Snipes’ salary), so for the bulk of the film, there’s not much to see. Like, literally, we barely see the aliens until the climax; they’re constantly in shadows or conveniently obscured by an object — like when a TV show wants to conceal an actress’ pregnancy by having her stand behind a sofa or hold a potted plant in front of her stomach all season.
We also only ever see two aliens at a time, which makes me think there was only enough budget for two alien costumes. There was also only enough budget to afford Snipes for less than half of the movie. He checks out for the final 25 minutes of the movie, but unlike most black characters whose purpose is to help a bunch of white kids in a horror movie, he actually doesn’t die.