Film review: Total Recall

Colin Farrell in Total Recall
Colin Farrell in Total Recall
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IN trying so hard not to seem like the near scene-for-scene remake of the daft Arnie classic that it is, this turkey forgets to make any sense


Directed by: Len Wiseman

Starring: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale

Star rating: *

We Can Remember It for You Wholesale. It seems like a bad joke that the title of the Philip K Dick short story that has now inspired two films called Total Recall should sound increasingly like a blinkered mission statement for remake-obsessed Hollywood. Like Rekall, Incorporated, the memory implanting corporation that forms the centerpiece of Dick’s wonderfully contained sci-fi mind-melter, instead of providing audiences with new moviegoing experiences, Hollywood studios seem determined to force reboots on us in the hope that any residual memories of the beloved originals won’t trigger a violent reaction against the dubious wares they’re peddling.

Of course, the irony of a studio trying to pull this off with the film that brought this very concept into the mainstream might seem too great for anyone to be stupid enough to think they could get away with it. And yet, here we are, with a $135m-plus remake of a film about the dangers of regurgitating the past.

The best that can be said about the new version of Total Recall is that it creates a warm, fuzzy glow for both the outsized heroics of original star Arnold Schwarzenegger and the outré satirical edge that director Paul Verhoeven – coming off the back of Robocop – managed to inject into what was, in the summer of 1990, the biggest and most expensive movie of the year.

Alas, while its subsequent success is proof that it is sometimes possible to dress smart entertainment up as a dumb fun blockbuster, the new version works from the opposite impulse: it attempts to mask its idiocy by giving it the veneer of a serious and gritty action film.

Thus we get the umpteenth iteration of Blade Runner’s acid-rain-scorched cityscapes (this time filtered through The Matrix and Minority Report); a humourless hero (Colin Farrell); an ass-kicking femme fatale (Kate Beckinsale) and wall-to-wall shaky-cam action. What we don’t get is anything genuinely new or a story that’s at all engaging. Director Len Wiseman (who made the Underworld movies and Die Hard 4.0) may talk in interviews of returning to the source material, but the new film is faithful to Dick’s 18-page short story only until it runs out of plot, at which point Total Recall 2.0 matches its predecessor almost beat for beat.

Not that Wiseman and co haven’t made a token effort to change the details. Like We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, the action is confined entirely to Earth rather than careering off to Mars like the Schwarzenegger version. Indeed, Mars is mentioned only in passing. Instead Wiseman, working from a script by Kurt Wimmer (Equilibrium) and Mark Bomback (Escape to Witch Mountain) has contrived of a dystopian future in which chemical warfare has devastated much of the Earth, leaving only two habitable landmasses: an imperialistic, but overcrowded version of Britain and an outlying Colony that more or less used to be Australia.

They’re linked via a hi-tech chute that cuts through planet’s core and allows people to commute between the two regions in record-fast time, a device that pays lip service to the notion that a brewing civil war between colony and ruling nation is on the verge of erupting but in reality is simply there to provide another contained setting for the film’s seemingly interminable action sequences.

At the centre of these is Farrell’s existential, memory impaired hero, Doug Quaid. At first Farrell seems like the most inspired thing about the film, thanks to the way he appears to be a little more in keeping with the “miserable little salaried employee” that Dick envisioned the character to be. Yet from the moment he discovers what may be his true identity as a highly trained government assassin, he becomes just another buttoned-down Bourne clone. True, the original short story does now read like a sci-fi primer for The Bourne Identity, but Total Recall’s apparent determination to distinguish itself from its own previous film version by co-opting the details and downbeat style of another franchise further shows how lacking in inspiration this really is.

Even worse, the character innovations Wiseman and his team have made make zero sense. For instance, the role of Quaid’s duplicitous wife – memorably played in the first film by Sharon Stone, now rather less so by Beckinsale – has been bumped up to a leading character who is intent on killing him, even though this makes no logical sense when the twist – which is the same as in the Schwarzenegger version – arrives.

But even then, Wiseman seems unwilling to admit defeat, piling on multiple action climaxes, each more deadening than the last.

Given that the film has already stiffed at the US box-office, perhaps all studios will take note of this defective filmmaking model and order a total recall of all remakes currently in pre-production. It won’t happen, but it’s a nice fantasy.