A factory worker, Douglas Quaid, begins to suspect that he is a spy after visiting Rekall – a company that provides its clients with implanted fake memories of a life they would like to have led – goes wrong and he finds himself on the run.
Colin Farrell is once again the star in a remake of a film that didn’t need to be remade. Last year it was “Fright Night” which really isn’t as bad as most claim it is and now it’s “Total Recall”, a remake of Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 sci fi smash. Twenty two years ago it starred Arnold Schwarzenegger & Sharon Stone, this time in addition to Farrell it stars Kate Beckinsdale and there is a big difference here but I’ll get to that in a little bit.
Directed by Len (Underworld) Wiseman, “Total Recall” hems relatively close to the original with a few differences. Farrell plays Douglas Quaid, a factory worker whose life is pretty humdrum. He works putting together “Synthetics” which are just what they sound like, synthetic people who are used as security agents throughout the city. He’s been married to Lori (Beckinsdale) for the last seven years and they seem to be a happy couple until he decides to relieve some stress and visit REKALL, where memories of a fantasy life you’ve never actually lived can be implanted into your brain for a price. Once he’s hooked up and about to undergo the procedure something goes terribly wrong and it’s discovered that his mind has already had some faux memories implanted in it and he’s not really who he thinks he is.
It turns out that his name is Hauser and he’s the greatest espionage agent on Earth. Blessed with brains, guile & expert fighting skills Hauser was actually being pursued by Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) before he had his memories wiped and replaced with those of Quaid. It turns out that Hauser was in Cohaagen’s employ, trying to smoke out the resistance led by Mattias (Bill Nighy) who are trying to convince the populace of The Colony that their lives are in peril from Cohaagen’s plans to raze the entire city and unceremoniously kill all of it’s inhabitants in order to rebuild the area into a place where the rich can live without any of the worries that currently plague the city.
Did any of you understand that? Yeah…I didn’t think so. The first problem with the film is it’s needlessly dense script. The Earth is essentially a barren wasteland in which there are only two inhabitable areas to live in. There is the aforementioned Colony, which is an overcrowded mess of a place to live in and the British Federation where the skies are blue and the air is clean with no overcrowding to worry about. A classic case of the “Haves” vs. the “Have Nots”. Since these two territories are located on opposite sides of the Earth (Yeah..I said “Earth”) the only way for the workers of the colony to get their menial jobs in the British federation is to use something dramatically called “The Fall” which is literally a tunnel that goes through the Earth from top to bottom and back again. Much like a subway train going from one stop to it’s next but here the subway car is roughly the size of a skyscraper & it goes through the center of the Earth.
Quaid (Or Hauser depending on whom he’s believing at any particular moment) finds various clues he left to himself in order to nudge his memories back to what they really are. Farrell is very convincing as both characters and he gives the character a luster of credibility throughout the proceedings but it’s Beckinsdale who steals the entire film out from under all of her fellow thespians! As Lori Quaid, she is both a loving wife & a ruthless assassin who might be Cohaagen’s second in command but that’s never really established. She is not only incredibly beautiful but she’s absolutely ferocious once she reveals the true nature of her mission and how far she’ll go to complete it. Her face goes from serene & loving to hateful & angry in the space of a few seconds and she’s a true ass kicker in every sense of the word. Jessica Biel plays Melina, a resistance fighter who seems to be in love with Quaid/Hauser but since he has trouble remembering who he is throughout the film her knowing glances at him go unnoticed.
This movie has so many bits of homage to the original film that it nearly is the original film with no new take on the material. And I wonder how many of the teens that the studio is hoping saw this movie last weekend are even familiar with Verhoeven’s original but it’s probably the slickest use of CGI I’ve seen in a film this year, maybe ever, it looks that good! It will definitely lose something on the small screen so it needs to be seen while still in the theater acolytes. Nearly all of the backgrounds in this film are gigantic CGI constructs that never fail to make it’s audience “Ooh & Ahh” What’s even more wonderful about the look here is that something is always moving either in the foreground/background which only serves to enhance the illusion. It will definitely be up for a “Best Visual Effects” Oscar in 2013.
The production design here left me feeling a bit hungry as well. The Colony is nothing more than a series of sets that were lifted lock, Stock & barrel from the set of “Blade Runner” which should work in theory since the both films are based on Philip K. Dick’s novella “We can Remember It For you Wholesale”. “TR” so slavishly worships at the altar of “BR” that the colony is populated mainly by Asian’s and it is raining all day long, everyday. Tons of neon lights dot it’s streets and those same streets are proven to be not the place where I’d be hanging out. They even use vehicles that are very familiar in concept to the autos seen in “The Fifth Element” and use the “Mag Lev” system seen in “Minority Report” a few years back. Both “Blade Runner” & “Minority Report” are based on Mr. Dick’s short novellas as well.
Way too many fights, car crashes & the like are littered throughout the film’s running time, if nothing else it sure isn’t boring. Farrell proves himself unexpectedly adept at some serious fight choreography. So does Biel but neither of them (Or anyone else in this flick) hold a candle to Beckinsdale here. Her character is something of an amalgam, combining both Lori & Richter who played Cohaagen’s right hand man in the original film. Not only is she drop dead gorgeous but she’s drop dead deadly as well! Employing both sex appeal & sheer ferocity to further her agenda, Lori is one hell of a opponent and her role is substantially fleshed out from the original. She has numerous fight scenes with both Biel & Farrell that are no holds barred slug fests that had to leave bruises on all three of them.
The fact that the film never leaves Earth was a problem for me. In the original half of the film takes place on Mars and so did most of the fun. All of the action in the new version leaves absolutely no room for any sly humor anywhere and that is a major blow. Wiseman is no Verhoeven either, he does an excellent job with the wildly careening script here but there is a palpable lack of wonder in this film. There is very little here by way of sheer entertainment. If they’re going to drop all of those little reminders of the original throughout the film then why not toss in a bit of it’s humor as well? “Total Recall” is a dour looking film and it drags the film down quite a bit.
And forget about trying to figure out what’s going on here after 20 minutes, just sit back & try to enjoy the ride. It is an enjoyable but joyless couple of hours that has some plot holes that I could ram the moon through without breaking a sweat. And that’s another problem, the rules of physics don’t seem to apply in this film at all. People just perform Herculean tasks without worry or recourse and I think that’s kind of cheap filmmaking. And don’t even get me started on the ending…
I feel comfortable giving “Total Recall” 2 1/2 out of 5 shrouds. It’s an exciting, slam bang, upside down & turned around thrill ride that strangely isn’t a lot of fun to sit through….impossible as that might sound. And why can’t our government just hire Kate Beckinsdale to go solve all of the woes taking place all over the world? She could just go and kick some major ass between projects, send her to Afghanistan!, Iraq, North Korea & any other knuckleheads that wanna get uppity with us…
And what up with the three breasted prostitute? Really Mr. Wiseman…It made sense in the original but it just sticks out like a sore thumb here…
Total Recall (2012) is now available on bluray per Sony Entertainment
Total Recall (2012)