Is it possible that a self-help book written by a guy who is such douche that he has to resort to stealing from his ex-wife’s IRA account could form the basis for an evil empire 200 years in the future?
And could this also cause all life on Earth to be wiped out and start a civil war that would cost 30 billion lives? And then lead to a battle for the fate of the future that reaches all the way back to the long forgotten primitive past of 1998 Oregon?
And most incredible of all, involve the replacement American Ninja David Bradley shooting everything up and making paper roses? It is not only possible, but it is Total Reality!
Total Reality is one of those movies where you keep wondering how director Philip Roth (he also directed another kickboxing star, Olivier Gruner, in another low budget sci-fi epic, Velocity Trap) is going to keep the story moving along since everything that happens doesn’t make much sense.
People go back and forth in time with no explanation and only when it suits the plot. Tracking devices work when they need to, but when the plot requires them to be destroyed, other far-fetched methods to track the bad guys down are discovered. And when the blase use of time travel gets old, Roth introduces the even more ridiculous and barely explained idea of replication, where somehow one person takes the place of another. I wasn’t even sure the replicating was part of the original plan when the guys went back in time! (I thought it was to kill the guy who started the self-help movement, but he was barely involved in anything.)
Bradley plays Rand, a soldier for the evil empire which is based on the self-help book penned centuries before by James Bridges. The movie never delved too deeply into the philosophy of the Bridgists, but it has something to do with drawing people close to you so that they are in your “covey” and then manipulating them to do what you want.
There is also a brief mention about followers attaining certain levels which brings to mind a real-life cult favored by celebrities with lots of money and little brains, but that cult is much more scary than anything in this movie, so I won’t mention it by name. (One has to wonder if the name of Bridges as the self-help guru is purely coincidental considering the name of the publisher associated with this real-life cult.)
Tunis, the leader of the rebellion, escapes the destruction of his ship by traveling back in time to Portland, Oregon. Rand, who is at the same battle, witnesses war crimes committed by his commanding officer, kills him and is sent to prison where he waits for his death sentence to be carried out. Before that can occur though, he and three other similarly condemned vets are offered a deal. Go back in time, kill Tunis, return and they will be pardoned. But just so they don’t get any ideas about staying in the past, they all have implants rigged with an explosive charge that will detonate in a number of hours.
Rand and his team hook up with Bridges’ bitter ex-wife and try to locate Tunis by finding Bridges, assuming that Tunis is trying to kill Bridges so that the horrible future won’t happen. And indeed, Tunis does seem to be trying to find Bridges since the ex-wife finds him at Bridges’ house. But Tunis never actually encounters Bridges during the film and turns his attention to replicating a politician who plans to co-opt Bridges teachings for his own political gain.
We learn from Rand that the politician is important because in the future, he becomes the president, starts a nuclear war in the Middle East, declares martial law, suspends the Constitution and the next thing you know it’s two hundred years later and there are giant space stations, starships and all sorts of inhabited worlds and big space battles! Because any dummy knows that a nuclear war could somehow lead to advanced space travel and colonizing other planets in two hundred years!
But an absurd backstory could be ignored if what happens on screen is compelling. Except that’s not the case with Total Reality. Isn’t Tunis really the good guy? Isn’t he trying to defeat the Bridgists who have enslaved the human race in the future? Can someone please explain to me why I should be rooting for Rand to succeed?
Don’t we really want Tunis to take the politician’s place? How much worse can the future get if he does?
And why would the Bridgists send Rand back to 1998 to follow Tunis? Why not send him back to just before Tunis went back in time? Or back to before Tunis was a threat and eliminate him then? Or go back in time and destroy the rebels’ time machine gear? And why couldn’t they use regular soldiers to do any of this instead of the surly convicts? Didn’t the Bridgists pick the single hardest possible plan for no apparent reason?
Even the ending didn’t have any internal consistency with the rest of the story. After some deaths alter the future, why does one person’s implant detonate and kill that person, while the other person’s implant simply vanishes? And why does the changed future wipe out everything, including the implant, but not the person or the Bridgist spaceship that goes back to the future?
The real total reality of this movie is summed up in the scene where Rand can’t find Tunis so the ex-wife suggests that if Tunis needs lots of power to replicate someone, she’ll just tap into the city database at the local cyber cafe to check for illegal power drains and she knows how to do it because she works in the city inspector’s office! And by golly if the computer screen doesn’t just start flashing “Illegal Power Drain” at a particular factory! The fact that this drain has been happening for a whole week and no one bothered to check on it is just another bit of the total unreality of a movie where David Bradley is somehow the best thing in it!
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