Film Review – Total Recall

Total Recall Movie PosterI’m in the minority, but I’m not opposed to remaking of Total Recall. While I enjoy the original film, I don’t think it is perfect, and I was willing to check out the remake to see if they can found something compelling to do with the material. Still, from the trailers, I thought that this was going to be a similar movie, just with more attractive people in it…not exactly what I have in mind as an adequate reason for a remake.

Set on earth after a nuclear war has destroyed everything but two cities (the Federation of Britain and The Colony), the story follows Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), a man who is unsatisfied with life. In an attempt to feel fulfilled, he decides to have some false memories implanted at a Rekall facility, but during the procedure he discovers that he is actually an elite super agent whose memory has been wiped and whose wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale), is a special agent who has been assigned to watch over him. He must then unearth his past, to save his future.

Total Recall has a great underlying premise. It is a discussion of what is real versus what is an implanted memory. I think of it as Inception-light. That is the element that made the original novella “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” from Philip K. Dick successful—and while that element exists in the original movie, it was downplayed in favor of action (naturally, since Arnold Schwarzenegger played the lead). The remake takes the strategy of the first movie and exaggerates it even more—less about what is reality, and more action.

I have no beef with director Len Wiseman. The Underworld films he directed were probably the best of the series, and I enjoyed his take on Live Free or Die Hard, despite it being PG-13. I’m not sure where things went wrong on his journey to making this movie. There are elements that are done well—the futuristic/post-apocalyptic world looks great. He has a decent collection of actors, including Farrell, Beckinsale, and Bryan Cranston. But everything you remember about the original that made it great, such as truly solid action and an intriguing story, are watered down to the point of losing significance. I get the impression that Wiseman’s general game plan in directing a movie is just to ramp up the action and sex appeal, a profitable strategy, but not one that creates timeless work.

Total Recall 1

The remake is a bit of an amalgam of elements from the original movie. Mars has been eliminated from the storyline, and Earth has been turned into Mars, in essence. The characters Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside played have been combined together to give Kate Beckinsale more screentime. There are nods to the original, such as the infamous three-breasted woman and the occasional callback line of dialogue, but overall this film’s noteworthy connections to the original are small. Oh, and the mutant subplot involving Kuato…gone, and we are left with the shell of the story of the resistance.

In terms of acting ability, Colin Farrell is a huge upgrade from Arnold Schwarzenegger. Farrell’s selections of projects hasn’t always been the best, but every now and then he knocks it out of the park (Tigerland, In Bruges), so I was happy to see him cast in this part. For what it is worth, he isn’t the problem in the movie; the material he has to work with definitely drags him down. The problem is that he has been classified as an action star, so, despite his talent, he rarely gets to use it.

I also appreciate Len Wiseman’s desire to use his wife Kate Beckinsale in the movie; she is very badass and does provides a solid replacement to Sharon Stone from the original movie, but it feels a bit like Terminator Salvation being re-written to increase Christian Bale’s role…it doesn’t quite feel right—too much of the movie is about her now. Despite the story of the film, her character is really the main villain this time around, in an almost Terminator-esque capacity.

Total Recall 2

The action is definitely amplified from the original film and feels like something out of Minority Report or I, Robot. Visually it looks cool, but it is edited with cutting that is too fast to follow what is going on. It is funny to hear all the criticism leveled against JJ Abrams for his use of lens flares, because I found them way more distracting in this movie. They seem to occur non-stop throughout the entire movie, with no particular purpose. When you get a chance to actually see it, Wiseman did a good job creating a futuristic world; unfortunately, those opportunities are few and far between.

The film isn’t unwatchable, but it is another disappointing remake. It is both unnecessary and uninspired. The potential is there; it is just misguided. Let’s all just go back and re-watch Inception instead. I’m still open to possibility of Total Recall remake, let’s just have more recall action next time around.

Final Grade: C


Spencer was born and raised in New Mexico. He grew up with the many great films of the 1980’s before having his world rocked after seeing The Usual Suspects. He moved to Washington State to go to the University of Washington, and currently any free time he currently has is split between working on film projects and watching films.

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