Review: 'Total Recall' Remake is Entertaining Fast Food Filmmaking
by Jeremy Kirk
August 3, 2012
When a Total Recall remake was announced, you could hear questions being raised. Would it be a more faithful adaptation to Philip K. Dick's original story, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale? Would it be a sci-fi blockbuster of action and adventure a la the Paul Verhoeven-directed, Arnold Schwarzenegger movie from 1990? Would there be three-breasted mutants? All the important questions have been answered with Len Wiseman's Total Recall of 2012, a patchworked redux of a thousand different ideas, Verhoven's film chief among them, but also a bang of a good time courtesy of Wiseman's handle on the action.
Rather than expand out into the universe and getting the ass of his movie to Mars, Wiseman, along with a team of screenwriters, sets the film entirely on a divided Earth. The superpower of The United Federation of Britain controls everything in the Northern Hemisphere, with the workers of the world living on the other side of it, all the way down in Australia, which has been renamed The Colony. These workers travel through the planet's core on a daily basis, going to the metropolis of a nation above to earn their keep.
Among these is Douglas Quaid, played by Colin Farrell. He dreams of a better life, something with more adventure and sexiness, and against the suggestions of his friends, he goes to Rekall, a company that will imprint a memory into you of something far more exciting than what you're doing. Quaid wants to be a secret agent, someone who saves the world, and just as the company implants the memory, the man's world turns upside down. His wife, another agent played by Kate Beckinsale, sets to hunting him down, and the conspiracy against Doug Quaid goes all the way to the top of the world's government.
Wiseman and his team of production designers have done an exceptional job bringing the two worlds of Total Recall to life. The United Federation of Britain is a lavish, futuristic city with skyscrapers that dig into the Earth's core and travel to the other side. That other side, The Colony, is a beaten-down, soggy mess of a city that's every bit as miserable as the people who inhabit it. These two worlds are brought to life with some top-notch CGI, but there's no originality in any of it. The city, along with the flying cars that circle around it, is straight out of Minority Report. The Colony looks like a reused set from Blade Runner. Wiseman's intentions of making a quilt of a film in Philip K. Dick's honor is evident, and often distracting.
The similarities in Total Recall's script to the 1990 version of the film is more excusable, especially when you realize this film has nothing to do with Mars, mutants, or aliens. Both carry a basic framework from Dick's We Can Remember It For You Wholesale with Verhoeven's film kicking the action-fest indulgence into high gear and Wiseman's crew keeping everything grounded. This version of Total Recall isn't as bloody as Verhoeven's — the PG-13 rating this time is apparent but never stands in the film's way — but Wiseman still knows how to keep your heart racing. When Quaid runs into a member of the resistance, Jessica Biel as Melina, and the two go on the run, the action comes fast and heavy. Few scenes of exposition fall in between the set pieces, and they bore more than inform. The action, though, is a welcome aspect.
Wiseman doesn't just keep the action moving, he handles it particularly well with regards to the set and the way he moves his camera. There is definite thought put into where the camera needs to move, who it needs to pick up, and what they need to be doing at that time. All of this comes together on several different occasions that create a nice demo reel of inventive action and stunts, some of them aided tremendously by well-placed, digital effects.
There isn't much in the way of groundbreaking acting achievements in Total Recall. Farrell does a fine job bouncing between the reluctant and almost wimpy Quaid to his alpha male, action-junkie real persona, Hauser. Bryan Cranston shows up as the Cohaagen, leader of the Federation who does a fine job coming off like Walter White in a bad toupee and flack jacket. He chews the scenery, but there's someone else usually on screen taking him over.
That would be Beckinsale, who's having the time of her life playing Lori, the villainous agent hellbent on tracking Quaid down and sending him to an early grave. It doesn't take a genius to realize Beckinsale, who is married to Wiseman, gets the best lines, the best stunts, and the best shots to say nothing of the most screen time, which she may actually take, as well. It doesn't matter, as she takes every scene she is in and amplifies in immensely with her mere presence. Beautiful but dangerous is a difficult combination to pull off without being cheesy, and Beckinsale's performance here finds a way of being serious and enjoyable. A definite improvement over Sharon Stone.
This latest Total Recall dips its hand into the reference pile a few times too often. With the absence of mutants, the three-breasted hooker seems an even odder inclusion. But the way the writers and director create something new from Dick's story is commendable. Minor characters like Bill Nighy's Matthias stand in for characters from Verhoeven's film, but none of that weighs on your mind as you're taken in by how entertaining the film is. This new version of Total Recall is every bit an example of fast food filmmaking with no real concern of creating a valid adaptation of Dick's original work in the cards. They wanted to remake Verhoeven's film, and they have. Thankfully they didn't forget to make it entertaining.
Jeremy's Rating: 7 out of 10