Total Recall (2012) / Sci Fi-Action
MPAA rated: PG-13 for violence, sexuality, brief nudity, and language
Running time: 118 min.
Cast: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bokeen Woodbine, Bill Nighy, John Cho
Director: Len Wiseman
Screenplay: Kurt Wimmer, Mark Bomback
Review published November 7, 2012
2012's version of Total Recall is a quintessential unnecessary remake, as the 1990 first attempt at making a very loose film version of the Philip K. Dick story, "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale," is great fun for reasons that can't possibly be recaptured -- Arnold Schwarzenegger's hammy performance, Paul Verhoeven's off-the-rails directorial style, some rather gory (but somehow amusing) gore, and a post-80's camp style that has all but gone completely out of fashion. The only upgrade is in the special effects and prolonged, CGI-infused action sequences. The tech specs are definitely impressive, but the fun has been sucked out of the equation, so the only appeal will be for action movie fans who enjoy a sci-fi bent.
Schwarzenegger is replaced by a rather dour Colin Farrell (Horrible Bosses, In Bruges), who is more of a placeholder vessel for adventure than a hero that captures our attention. He stars as Douglas Quaid, who commutes from the United Federation of Britain to Australia (aka "The Colony"), the only two territories still inhabitable for humans after years of catastrophic chemical warfare, in order to fulfill his job working on the assembly of 'peace keeper' robots. Trouble is, Quaid is itching for something new, better, more exciting, especially as he has been having a recurring dream about a strange, beautiful woman (Biel, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry) and a life of excitement and danger. After being bombarded with advertisements, Quaid travels to Rekall, a company that will implant a memory in your mind of anything you can even dream of. Quaid decides on an adventure as a secret agent, but just at the moment he is going to get the implant, the facility is stormed by government troops, which Quaid dispatches utilizing physical skills he had only experienced in his dreams.
Quaid struggles to determine whether what he's currently experiencing is real, or if it is merely to experience he paid for at Rekall. His loving wife, Lori (Beckinsale, Vacancy), appears to have taken a strange turn after he reveals his feelings to her, as she suddenly begins to be out to take him out, permanently. Meanwhile, he runs into a woman he only knew from his dreams, Melina, who is a member of the Resistance that she asserts that Quaid, then known as an international terrorist named Hauser, had also been a part of before his memories were tampered with. Quaid searches for his true identity, having to take things to the bitter end, either to save his own life in real time, or to get to the end of the memory being implanted in the relative comfort of his chair in the Rekall laboratories.
Along with Mark Bomback (Unstoppable, Live Free or Die Hard) , the screenplay is written by Kurt Wimmer (Street Kings, Ultraviolet), who has made a niche career crafting screenplays for sci-fi or spy films with high amounts of action. The screenplay is fine in terms of twists and turns, many of which either crib or deviate defiantly from the original film (no trip to Mars here), but the characters lack dimension, merely servicing the serpentine plot, and the entire film is nearly devoid of any sort of good humor other than an occasional homage to the 1990 film (such as the infamous appearance of a three-breasted woman, which made more sense as a by-product of the mutations of Mars). The entire premise seems to make little sense, vastly downscaling the war for power among two planets to (basically) two remnant countries, which begs more questions than answers (What would make much of Britain immune to the near world-ending chemical warfare that destroyed every other part of the world, no matter how remote? Why was Australia spared and not New Zealand? Why do they shuttle in people in a vastly expensive, large-scale shuttle operation that required a tunnel be burrowed through the center of the Earth (called "The Fall") into Australia daily in order to work on highly sophisticated robots used in law enforcement, when these same robots could just as easily be used to work on building robots themselves?
The original film did a much better job treading the line of ambiguity as to whether Quaid is actually a secret agent or if his current adventure is merely the implanting of the experience in his mind. In this film, there are several sequences that show characters and dialogue wholly outside of Quaid's sensory experience, leaving much of the answer as to whether things are real or manufactured without much doubt.
As with most blockbuster sci-fi action releases, the MPAA rating for the new Total Recall is staunchly PG-13. It is a violent film, to be sure, but most of the 'gore' comes in the form of decapitating or amputating limbs off of obvious robotic government agents, who regularly get crunched by elevators or vehicles, and are set up like pins in a bowling ally for nearly every major explosion. Verhoeven's world felt like a cheeky satire of sci-fi, but also of the current world we live in, while director Les Wiseman is content to toss in Blade Runner-esque cityscapes into what amounts to a nearly two-hour chase and shoot-em-up film.
The remake Total Recall runs along fine for the first hour, when there is a good deal of mystery behind what's going on, creating an aura of suspense that peters our sharply as each successive piece of the overall mystery is revealed. Production design can only take a film so far. If the cornerstone of your tale deals with a mysterious identity of the hero, the revelations should feel weighty and important, instead of just another plot point to hurriedly get out of the way in order to have a whiz-bang explosive showdown. The real mystery that is unraveled is that this remake, while imminently watchable, without a visionary (even an eccentric one like Verhoeven) is hollow to the core.
©2012 Vince Leo