Just like its hero Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), Total Recall has a ton of problems. Quaid has a boring rut of a life and wants a change...some action. The film has that in spades, the problem is the lack of substance.
The film’s main flaw lies in the filmmakers’ public proclamation that this not a remake. Rather, claims director Len Wiseman, it’s a more faithful interpretation of sci-fi author Philip K. Dick’s short story, We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.
There is just one problem with that claim, namely that Dick, who is now deceased, was around to help write the original screenplay.
Cinematic interpretations aside, it’s essentially a tale of a bored factory worker who goes to the mind-bending world of REKALL. For a fee, the company allows you to indulge in a virtual fantasy to take your mind off things and perhaps entertain yourself for a few days with some awesome memories. What could possibly go wrong? Quaid goes for the double agent spy fantasy and bam! Before the session is complete, something goes awry. Faster than you can say Schwarzenegger, Quaid is embroiled in murder, espionage, double crosses, hailing bullets and car chases. You know…spy stuff.
We know going in that this film is all about the special effects and the mind-twisting adventure. The Google Earth beginning shows us what’s left of the population resides in Great Britain and The Colony (Australia). Plot wise Recall is the same big mess that director Paul Verhoeven gave us in 1990. Mars has just been replaced by “the future” where workers toil away in the earth’s core, which, I guess, is just as hot and maddening as the Red Planet.
Like the original, we are supposed to be guessing if Quaid is living in the fantasy or in reality. Perhaps my familiarity with the original version ruined most of the twists and turns, but the ending is where it really falters. The intentional ambiguity is not as much fun as the blatant ridiculousness of the first film.
To be fair, the Blade Runner-esque world is cool. It really looks like Wiseman studied the Ridley Scott masterpiece. While great looking, TR retains none of K. Dick’s wit and insight, nor Verhoeven’s roller coaster ride.
Wiseman, whose credits include Live Free or Die Hard, Underworld and Underworld: Evolution, starts his flick at a relentless pace and quickly comes down. The best part by far is the hover cars. Even so, I saw an impressive special on the hover cars that was far more compelling than the film itself. (The Fast and Furious stunt team drove real cars as technicians green-screened the rest out. )
I knew I was going to miss Michael Ironside’s character, the military leader in botched pursuit of Quaid. Here he has been replaced by a slew of robotic Star Wars-style troopers.
My biggest gripe, however, is that this flick is absolutely devoid of humor. There are some intentional and not-so-intentional laughs throughout, like a stash of futuristic Obama money and Bryan Cranston spewing poorly written villain lines while sporting a really bad hair-hat. Even the metal detector scene with the plump woman homage from the original only serves as an in-joke for cinephiles like me.
The question surrounding a remake is intention. Is it emulation or sacrilege? Take the recent re-interpretation of Straw Dogs. If I hadn’t seen the first, would I like the second?
But is this a case of filmmakers having something new to say or simply something new to show, i.e. a whole boatload of CGI. Which brings me to another question. If this is the supersonic future, why are they shooting bullets? Where are the damn lasers? (Oh, that’s two questions)
When all the futuristic smoke clears, we are left with the memory of a decaying society and planet with a couple of heroes and hope. Meanwhile I shall return to my newly envisioned corporation called “Selektive Memory” and have all elements of Total Recall wiped clean save the hover cars, Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale.
Starring Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Bokeem Woodbine, Bryan Cranston, Jessica Biel
Directed by Len Wiseman