Total Recall

As I’m certain that everyone is aware, “Total Remake” – sorry, “Total Recall” – is a remake of the 1989 Sci-Fi/Action classic starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I’m not certain how fair or unfair it is to constantly compare remakes to their original inspirations, but when a movie is as beloved as the first “Total Recall” is, comparisons to it are inescapable. It’s the price that needs to be paid if Hollywood is going to recycle properties, I suppose… not that they care.

In that regard, it’s a pale imitation. Though the special effects are better, the action sequences feel generic and, occasionally, forced. Its stars can’t provide half the charisma that Schwarzenegger, Stone, Ironside and Ronny Cox did back in the day. And perhaps worst of all, the plot has been dumbed down a degree for today’s audiences (as Hollywood sees them). As a remake, it fails.

Even taken as a completely individual, stand alone movie, “Total Recall” isn’t that good. Every bright-spot is offset with something blindingly bland. Eventually it succumbs to extreme averageness and winds up almost completely forgettable.

In this iteration of “Total Recall”, as in the original, Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) grows bored with his meaningless job and goes to a company which specializes in memory implantation: Rekall. While there, he chooses to experience a “secret agent” fantasy. When he is strapped in and the implant procedure is performed on him, either the fantasy he purchased begins or the technicians disrupt a memory block which had been present in his mind, depending on your interpretation. Either way, the action begins, as special forces storm in and Quaid takes off on the run.

Here, however, his destination is NOT Mars. In “Recall 2012”, biological and chemical warfare have decimated the planet and the sole remaining habitable areas on Earth are Britain and Australia. A caste system has evolved, militarily enforced, where the residents of “The Colony” (Australia) labor for the benefit of the United Federation of Britain. The two zones are connected by a giant elevator shaft built directly through the center of the planet, and each day, Colony laborers take the high-speed transit to the other side of the world, to work for the benefit of the Federation.

The Federation is ruled by Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) who is facing a terrorist insurgence led by an enigmatic leader named Matthias. Quaid, who has no memory of his past, is sucked into this conflict by his pre-memory-wiped self through a series of pre-recorded messages and clues. Along the way, he is assisted by an ex girlfriend (Melina, played in this edition by Jessica Biel) and chased by his “wife” (Kate Beckinsdale) who was actually a plant to ensure his memory stayed safely erased. With them as allies and adversaries, Quaid attempts to evade mechanized police and unravel the mysteries of his past in this futuristic setting.

The action sequences here are loaded with CGI, which is a bad thing, but not in the way you’d think. Visually, the effects were realistic enough… at some points even very good. The audience’s eyes will find what they’re seeing to be credible, on the whole. The failure is that even though the artists have the potential to create believable illusions, the things that they create are so standard… scenes and sequences that we’ve seen before. Car chases and speeding elevator cars that need to be dodged. Gun fights and people clinging for dear life over the edge of cliffs. A couple of the sequences are enjoyable enough, but others just feel so cliché it’s disappointing.

The film removes several elements from the original that added depth and sci-fi flavor. Mars, mutation, ancient alien artifacts, the air shortage, etc. They simplify the main plot to almost a basic totalitarian revolt scenario, albeit with the mind alteration element. The emphasis is much more on action here than in the original, much to its detriment, seeing as the action isn’t great. The sci-fi element of this film is still there, there are some neat technological devices along the way, and the mechanized police are pretty cool. But the high concept stuff, aside from Quaid’s memory issues, is completely gutted.

But the biggest mistake they make may be in setting a more serious tone for the film. There just isn’t enough heft left to the script to support a more thoughtful, more serious incarnation of this story. There’s far too many things rushing by and exploding, too many sides of buildings to hang off of, etc. to build significant character depth. The acting fails occasionally as well (mainly Bokeem Woodbine and Jessica Biel, who really fail the famed “Schizoid Embolism” scene), but overall there simply isn’t enough charisma and humor to go around to make enjoyable as a light-hearted romp and not enough weight and meaning to make it worthwhile as a serious sci-fi/action movie. For the former, you’re better off renting “Lockout” and for the latter, revisit “Minority Report”… or need I say it? The original.



58 thoughts on “Total Recall

  1. Fine review, Fogs. I’m closer to a C+ with the film, but you’ve given it a fair appraisal. This is probably a more enjoyable experience for those who’ve not seen Verhoeven’s classic, and quite muscular, sci-fi actioner. You’re right about Biel, though I did get a kick out of Colin’s and Kate’s performances. Those two are the reason I could watch and be entertained with it.

    • Yeah, Farrell and Beckinsdale were fine, for sure.

      And definitely… If someone hasn’t seen the original, it probably would wind up getting all kinds of credit for things I’m not willing to credit it for. By mistaking the is it a dream stuff for being original, say, for example.

      I thought it was on track to being a muscular actioner until the elevator sequence. After that it was all downhill.

      My eyes started rolling and didn’t stop.

  2. Its nice to see bad remakes being called to task by good reviewers! It seems like the insanity will never end. I mean a remake of Carrie in the works??? Really?? I love you Chloe but your career will likely suffer for it!

    • You know what though? In a perfect world, this was the type of movie that could have used a good remake Ric.

      I don’t support Hollywood’s churn and burn policy with these, but in the case of “Total Recall”, a more serious take, plus updated special effects could have made for a really good movie.

      Alas, the worst tendencies of Hollywood reared their ugly head. 😦

      We’ll see about Carrie, but I bet Moretz career survives 😉

      Anyways thanks for the compliment and for checking out the review, buddy.

  3. I’m slightly intrigued by this movie but it’s a bit tiring that filmmakers are trying to spin “dark & gritty” on everything, including a 1990 classic that was a bit campy in a fun way. I”ll rent it though 🙂

    • Worth a rental. The buzz’ll be gone, you wont be paying much or going out to see it, and been then you’ll probably have read like 50 bad reviews, so your expectations will be low.

      I’d say you even stand a chance of being pleasantly surprised after all of that! LOL 😀

  4. I just got home from checking this out at the theater. If I was not writing up a review I may have walked out. What a complete piece of generic crap. I look forward to crafting my hate filled review tonight after I let my anger simmmer a bit first.

  5. Here’s another one who loved the movie. It was the most action packed film I’ve seen in a long time. Luckily there were a couple of scenes that had a lull where I could catch my breath. And I loved the original too. I can see a BD of TR in my future. (I already have the original in BD)

    • Well, that’s cool. Never begrudge anyone if they like a movie, I always hope people do.

      Cant see eye to eye with you on this one though. That last half of the movie was practically stock footage with good CGI, it was so generic. LOL

  6. Well that sounds like poo. I saw the trailer before tDKR and it was just awful. Having Biel and Beckinsale in a movie is a sure distaster, they can’t act for shit although Beckinsale was good once or twice in her career.

    • LOL. Well, it was better than poo… you know. Not much, but definitely better than Poo. 😀

      The cast has some talent, but the material didnt help them much. I think they got all the mileage out of it that they could except for that one scene – the one where they try to talk Doug back to reality – which was completely weak. 😦

  7. Always liked Paul Verhoeven’s work. Very distinctly his own man. 20 years isn’t quite long enough for remake city. The original hasn’t aged badly. Sounds like I’ve already seen the hovercar chase scene. And the elevator from one end of the planet to the other doesn’t sit well with my Sci-Fi Feng Shui. The earth does not need a colonoscopy. I’ll wait for Netflix on this one.

  8. Well….I’m not shocked whatsoever. I loved Total Recall (original). I mean I randomly say, “Two weeks” when I feel like my head is going to explode. LOL I do agree with you on the graphics, can’t take that away from the new movie. But the lack of charisma…now that’s unacceptable. What a shame.

    I can’t thank you enough. You saved me $12 and two hours of my life. You rock, Dan.

    • Yeah, its a sad state of affairs when you can almost see the “blah” comin’ can’t ya? 😦

      Meanwhile, I dont know if it’s “I wish I hadnt just wasted two hours” bad. I just know it was disappointing, and not all that good. Take it as you will.

      I dont think I’d be hating myself if I had checked it out at home or anything…

      • My friend said something very similar. He said that it’s better that I wait for the DVD. I guess I’ll have to wait a little longer to see the infamous three boobs prostitute in her full glory. LOL

      • You were given wise counsel on waiting til DVD…

        Meanwhile on the triple tittied trollop you’ll also need slo mo or freeze frame or somethin’ cause blink and you’ll miss it. Don’t want you to get your hopes up or anything.

  9. As soon as I saw that this was rated PG13, I lost all hope. If you’re going to remake a Schwarzenegger film, don’t skimp on blood please! I love Colin Farrell, but even he can’t fix the plot, lack of intensity, and other problems that I’m expecting to find in this film. You confirmed it for me, so I won’t be going to see this one:( Kind of sad about it, though.

    • Me too, Livi, me too.

      They did basically remove 90% of all blood involved by making the opponenets mechanized. The MPAA doesnt care if you kill robots! They like that!

      There’s still some decent fight sceens and stuff, but I just watched the scene where Quaid kills Harry and like 4 other dudes beneath the staircase right after going to Rekall from the original movie, and there isnt a single scene in the remake that can even hold a candle to that one 😦 Maybe the car chase, I did kind of like that… but…

      • It seems like there should even be more blood now than in the original, because we don’t have Arnold awesome-ness this time:)

  10. This wasn’t on my must-see list anyway, but I would say after reading your review it’s on my do not see list.

    • I’ll tell you this.

      The TITLE of that post? Cracked me the %#$& UP. LOL.

      Thank you Adam. I appreciate the props and linkage. I’ll drop some kind of ball busting comment over there soon. 😀

  11. I haven’t written my review yet but I agree w/ you Fogs, I thought it was sooo bland. Now I’ll have a dual review post from two perspectives in regards to the original, and while I don’t remember much of the Arnie version, I’m sure it’s eons better than this remake or it wouldn’t have been regarded as a classic.

    • I just watched many parts of it over the course of this week (piecemeal… its a long story) and the original is 10x the movie this one is, Ruth.

      If you can be forgiving of the special effects a little, you’ll like it a lot better. No doubt.

      Looking forward to checking out your review!

  12. It’s one thing for fans to compare this one to the original, but I felt even this remake was far too often comparing itself to the Arnie classic. I think this one would have been better served by putting as much distance as possible from the much beloved original. Do something different…….or don’t do it. Love “Total Re-Make” by the way….so simple….so perfect!

    • Simple lines, intertwining… 😀 Thanks, I thought of that and couldnt resist putting it in.

      Yeah, this movie very obviously tried to crib off of the original and dumb it down even, a little. I dont understand the choice to stay on Earth at all. Apparently even the source story had Mars as the focus, so why stay on Earth? That did NOT make things better. And then all the things they did try to that were IN the original just paled in comparison.


      Hollywood. When are they gonna learn, man?

  13. Just watched it and yes…the title should have been Total Waste. I am writing my review now–but agree with pretty much all your points.

    I was hopeful for about 20 minutes and then it started to fall apart. Despite its modern CG and slick appearance, the original wins on almost every other level. And this adaptation sucked all the FUN out of the story. (I will give a little props to Ms. Beckinsdale, who had the only clearly fleshed out character–yeah, that isn’t saying much.) 🙂

    Say what you will about Arnold–he has charisma and delivers on screen and the 1989 Total Recall is a true Arnold Classic.

    “Consider that a divorce.” Indeed.

    • Ooooh. “Total Waste”! 😀 Thats a good one! LOL

      “Say what you will about Arnold” – hey man, the only thing I’m gonna say about Arnold is he’s awesome. LOL. 😀 I’m a big fan, and the original movie is awesome.

      Kate B was one of the highlights of this flick, agreed.

      I dont know if I’d call it a TOTAL waste… I think it would make for an ok cable movie or something. But it’s not even close to the quality of the original. Not even in the same league.

  14. Pingback: Review: Total Recall (2012) « The Focused Filmographer

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