Running Time: 118 mins
Reviewer: David Gillespie – Official HCF Artist
‘Who da hell am I???’ exclaimed big Arnold Schwarzenegger, in the 1990’s barmy sci-fi classic. Perhaps one of the last movies I watched that incorporated Arnie, prosthetic makeup effects, surreal and barmy set pieces (woman disguise with grenade head) and mind bending plot twists. This wasn’t likely to be writer, Philip K Dick’s vision of how his sci-fi thriller would look on the big screen but the movie was crowd pleasing, uber violent entertainment. There were critics who yearned for a screen version closer to the novel. Perhaps if David Cronenberg had been given the reigns, as originally planned, then Total Recall would have stuck closer to its roots? He wanted William Hurt in the lead role and for the story to take a more serious direction. The film company wanted a commercial, box office smash and knew that Arnold Schwarzenegger was a massive draw coming off the success of Terminator and Predator. So it was goodbye to Mr Cronenberg and hello to Mr Verhoeven.
10 years or so seems to be a suitable time period for a remake these days and Underworld director, Len Wiseman steps up for his version of the futuristic thriller. However Arnie’s comment couldn’t be more apt as the new version suffers from a lack of individuality and identity.
The basic bones of the story are the same as the 1990 original. Set in a futuristic world ravaged by chemical warfare, blue collar worker, Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) pines for something with more substance in his life. He has recurring dreams of fighting for the resistance with lover, Melina (Pout-tastic Jessica Biel) against the fascist regime of Chancellor Vilos Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston). His wife (Kate Beckinsdale) tries to convince him that it is just a phase that will pass. After getting a knock back for promotion from his employer, Quaid takes a visit to memory implant specialists, Rekall. He opts to be implanted with the memory of a resistance fighter and this is where his life falls apart. Soon after the implant process, the Rekall headquarters are raided by Cohaagen’s synthetic police force with Quaid discovering that he is fairly handy in the art of killing.
Similar to the story’s central character, Total Recall is crying out for an identity of its own. Without replicating Dick’s novel or Verhoeven’s adult, splatterfest, Wiseman has created an empty shell of a movie; a pie without filling. After a successful first quarter, the plot revolves around one big chase with Farrell jumping out of windows, lift shafts and vehicles while being pursued by Cohaagen’s agents. The pace is relentless yet it all becomes a little tiresome and monotonous.
Farrell is sympathetic and believable as the disorientated everyman with a major identity crisis. He is one of the few aspects of the remake that really do work. Unfortunately he has no script to work with. There are none of the comedy one liners that bestowed Mr Schwarzenegger. Beckinsdale and Biel look suitable impressive in a variety of tight fitting outfits but their characters are painfully two dimensional. Even the normally brilliant Bryan Cranston falls into the dismal pantomime villain category.
Some of the original sequences are reworked to questionable effect. The inclusion of Quaid’s visit to mars with the woman disguise has the potential for the movie’s biggest laugh but falls flat at the last moment. Also the scene where our hero is talked into returning back to reality by his best friend, Harry (Bokeem Woodbine) loses all the tension that was present in the Verhoeven version.
The set designs are probably the movie’s biggest strength. The opening shots of the Colony are suitably impressive, resembling a cross between Blade Runner’s rain-swept, Los Angeles and a Salvador Dali painting. The addition of the ‘The Fall’, a huge transport system that hurtles through the centre of the earth, is an interesting concept and forms the basis of the best action set-piece. Yet there are not enough of these moments.
Total Recall suffers in the same way that most of the 2002’s Hollywood blockbusters have. It fails to have any original ideas or surprises in its locker. If you have seen the likes of Blade Runner, Strange Days, Minority Report, The Matrix, Star Wars and I Robot, then you have already witnessed the majority of the content of this film. Similar to Douglas Quaid, it might best living in ignorant bliss and avoiding Total Recall like the plague.