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.