Total Recall is the most recent in the increasingly long and cringe worthy line of remakes of excellent films. However unlike some of the more disastrous contemporary remakes (I’m looking at you Footloose!), this revamped Total Recall isn’t all that bad as a stand alone film. But it’s not that good either.
Directed by Len Wiseman (the Underworld films), Total Recall 2012 tells much the same story as Arnie’s 1990 Total Recall, directed by Paul Verhoeven. As they were both drawn from the Philip K. Dick short story ‘We Can Remember it For Your Wholesale’ (1966), this isn’t really a big deal.
Blue collar worker Doug Quaid (Quail in the original Dick story) longs for a better life and goes to Rekall, a company specialising in false memory implants. After the procedure goes wrong (or does it?), Quaid is caught up in a life he doesn’t remember in a world that remembers him as something quite different and discovers he’s wanted as a dangerous spy.
A key element of most of Dick’s work is the questioning of the very foundation of reality and one’s self within that reality, and this is something that this remake still clings to though in this case it may be more obscured by a few too many long winded action scenes to truly do the concept justice.
Small changes aside, the core plot is largely the same except we no longer have a trip to Mars and the political and resistance fighting plots are somewhat altered. Total Recall 2012 though, does reasonable credit to Dick’s tale and the remake does give several nods to the original film – the triple breasted woman gets a look in, and the original scene that has Arnie disguised as the fat old woman first arriving on Mars gets a clever reference.
It’s a strange thing to compare Arnold Schwarzenegger and Colin Farrell in the same character as they are such obviously disparate actors. Arnie IS Total Recall, and it was hard to imagine otherwise until I saw this film. Farrell does a reasonably good job in the character and perhaps it is to the filmmaker’s credit that such an opposite actor was cast in Arnie’s role. Farrell can be a little simpering and insipid at times, but in an action movie like this it didn’t really cause a problem for this reviewer at least, though many will and do disagree. Kate Beckinsale was enjoyable as the bad ass, Lori (a character previously played by Sharon Stone) and displayed a bit more range of character than she has shown in her famous role as Selene in the Underworld series. Jessica Biel however was the complete wrong choice for Quaid’s alternate world love interest – she was just too darn flat to be believable as a resistance fighter and honestly, in some of the more convoluted action scenes I sometimes had difficulty telling Biel and Beckinsale apart. The supporting cast was strong, with Bryan Cranston as crooked politician Cohaagen, and the always excellent Bill Nighy as resistance leader, Matthias. There isn’t a whole lot of characterisation going on in this movie, something the first version had in spades, and for the most part it is a long series of chases, fights and explosions built around an excellent core plot which the filmmakers can take no credit for.
The sets are a joy to behold – a dazzling futuristic dystopia where east and west are blended with much of the same urban chaos that we saw from Bladerunner (1982), another Philip K. Dick adaptation. A good looking set and a solid core plot however does not automatically make for a good film.
Ultimately, this new version of Total Recall is enjoyable as an action movie with a cool plot but that’s about it. As a remake, it’s not quite an insult to the original but it’s still a weak adaptation and one has to continue to wonder why bother with it all when the original 1990 version was so much closer to the Dick story and still stands as a brilliant action movie.