Total Recall did not need to be remade. That said, the new film is pretty good, despite the fact that it doesn’t really add anything new.
Here’s a preview:
Released August 3, 2012
Written by Kurt Wimmer, Mark Bomback, Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, and John Povill. Based on the short story by Phillip K. Dick
Directed by Len Wiseman
Starring Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Colin Farrell, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine, John Cho, and Bill Nighy (for perhaps 4 minutes).
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Total Recall is a reboot of the original Arnold Schwarzzenegar film. The story is similar. Doug Quaid (Farrell) is a regular guy who feels unfulfilled in life, despite having a good job and Kate Beckinsale as a wife. Seriously. Cast Chelsea Handler or some other horrible person as his wife, and I’ll believe it.
In any case, Quaid has been having vivid dreams that involve a beautiful woman and him escaping from bad guys.
Quaid decides to try out Rekall, a procedure that embeds you with memories of some kind of fun event, like going to a beach, being a famous celebrity, or even being a spy. His friend, Harry (Woodbine), tries to convince Quaid to not do the Rekall thing, but Quaid goes ahead and on a lonely night (Seriously? Kate Beckinsale, guys..) he goes to get the procedure. Mcclane (Cho) runs Rekall and he gets Quaid started with a memory package of being a spy.
But all is not well. Apparently the science of implanting memories into a person’s brain has found that if you try to implant memories of something that actually happened to a person, there will be some kind of mental break and bad things can happen. Just as the memory package is being downloaded into Quaid, all hell breaks loose and it appears that Quaid might actually be a spy, or that he might have some kind of dark history.
Quaid unleashes some deadly skills he didn’t know he had and heads home, whereupon his wife tries to kill him. This begins the action of the movie, with the entire thing essentially being a chase film. It turns out that the world this movie is set in is run by a guy named Cohagen (Cranston), who wants Quaid dead, and that Quaid’s wife is one of Cohagen’s minions.
On the run, Quaid connects with Melina, the woman from his dreams and he begins to uncover the truth of his past.
And that’s where we stop so we don’t give spoilers. But let’s take a moment to look at the world. This is an Earth that has been decimated by biological warfare. All that remains of human society are a federation based in England and the Colony, where Australia is now. Travel between these two places is accomplished by The Fall, which is where a huge ship uses gravity to move through the Earth, somehow going through the core and showing up on the other side of the planet in 18 minutes.
Physics and geology don’t exist in this film. Gravity obeys the laws of the screenwriter.
The physics of The Fall were so bad, so incredibly stretched, that it actually detracted from the film. Despite this and the fact that Total Recall really doesn’t offer anything new from the original, this 2012 Total Recall is still a fairly entertaining film.
Colin Farrell is a fine actor and he carries the film well. Kate Beckinsale is brutal and wears tight black clothes, rather a lot like what she does in Wiseman’s Underworld films. Jessica Biel is surprisingly engaging and adds a nice heart to the film. Bryan Cranston is sufficiently over the top as the villain Cohagen. Bill Nighy is totally wasted in his few minutes of screen time. John Cho’s character is interesting and goes away too early. Bokeem Woodbine’s character of Harry is a plot device and is not allowed to fill the space of a real person.
Again, the movie is entertaining and engaging. The action sequences aren’t much new, but the filming is well done and the production design did a convincingly gritty devastated humanity.
It’s the script. Sure, this is an action movie, but action movies are allowed to be smart and challenging. The direction is also a problem, in that scenes are cut short, not allowing characters to grow and fill the spaces with authenticity.
Back to the script. The central idea of this movie is the question of what is real and what is recall. This question is so sparely treated, so lightly explored, that it’s irritating. In the moment when Quaid has to decide if he is living reality or existing in a mental creation, I wanted the movie to really explore the implications of the two options and try to do something challenging. But no, it doesn’t. With some deft writing and a bit of creativity, audiences could spend this entire movie wondering “Is this all real or a fabrication? Is he in Rekall?”
Disappointing. Add to that the simply awful physics of The Fall and the characters not really doing much more than what the plot wants them to do, and Total Recall is not something I care to recall for any real length of time.
Content warnings: A three-breasted woman bears her chest briefly, plenty of violence and gun battles, some harsh language.
Writing: 2 Acting: 4 Overall: 3
It’s unbelievable to me that Total Recall has a fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes that is twenty points lower than the rating for John Carter, but that Total Recall isn’t being slammed as a flop. John Carter is a vastly superior film which made a lot more than Total Recall is going to make. Go to Rotten Tomatoes and complain.