There seems to be two camps on the issue of the newest remake to be pumped off the Hollywood assembly line, Total Recall. One says, “Why remake a film unless it is for the expressed reason of making a better finished product than the original?” The other side’s argument basically boils down to, “Who even remembers the original Total Recall, other than an exploding head here and a three-breasted prostitute there?”
Both points are valid. The first adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” was definitely popular upon its release in June 1990, but today is mostly remembered for the then cutting-edge special effects and director Paul Verhoeven’s love of gore on the screen. Effects have come a long way over the past twenty years, and there is definitely a better film to be made from the source material. So how does new director Len Wiseman’s attempt at bringing Dick’s story to the big screen fare?
In this remake, Colin Farrell (In Bruges) plays Douglas Quaid, an assembly line worker at a plant that builds robot cops on an Earth that has been destroyed by warfare. The only two areas left relatively unaffected are Great Britain and Australia; the inhabitants of Australia are the wage-slaves while the citizens of “the United Federation” are the 1%.
Quaid suffers from recurring dreams in which he is attempting to flee a building with a beautiful member of the freedom fighting Resistance, Melina (Jessica Biel). Finally mustering up the nerve, he visits Rekall, a corporation that implants false memories into customers to spice up their hum-drum lives. While undergoing the procedure, Quaid discovers that his memory has already been tampered with, shortly before a SWAT team bursts into the room and takes out the Rekall workers. This triggers Quaid’s Bourne-esque fighting skills, and what follows is 100 minutes of non-stop chase scenes.
Let’s talk about the good first, as the bad is plentiful. This is Wiseman’s most technically sound film to date, bringing to the screen a gorgeously dirty future that looks equal parts Blade Runner and Tron Legacy. He stays far away from his usual Underworld gimmicks (the 3-D, the Matrix “bullet time” effects), and seems to realize that he is crafting something…special may be too strong a word, as is important; I suppose what I’m trying to say is, when Columbia Pictures gave him a $200 million dollar budget, he probably realized this wouldn’t be his own private little disposable playground, as the Underworld series has quickly devolved into.
The actors are almost all universally bad here. Sure, John Cho (the Harold & Kumar series) appears for a few minutes as the technician at Rekall, and Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) appears to be having fun as Cohaagen, the evil ruler of the UF. After that we are left with Biel, who hasn’t appeared in a starring role in a major release in years, playing a top notch freedom fighter that seemingly can’t until a knot without screaming for Quaid’s help and suffering a concussion. Beckinsale plays her usual role of “beautiful woman in leather who kicks everyone’s ass for 2 hours”, chewing the scenery while her director husband shouts words of encouragement from behind the camera.
The huge problem here is Farrell. Yes, he was great in In Bruges, but how much goodwill can you continue to give a guy for one role? What we are given here is the Farrell of SWAT, a star in desperate need of charismatic support around him at all times. Say what you will for Schwarzenegger, but at least he was fun to watch in the original. Farrell is the definition of vanilla acting; he won’t put in a horrible performance, but at certain points you are begging him to breathe life into the material. Crack a smile, develop a facial tic, appear to actually be bothered by the events going on around you, anything!
The only thing memorable about this film is that they managed to include a 3-breasted alien nude scene in a PG-13 film, giving geeky teens without the internet something to develop puberty to once this hits DVD. Other than that, it is a truly forgettable experience.