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Total Recall

Total Recall

Released 29 August 2012
Director Len Wiseman

Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bill Nighy, Bryan Cranston, Ethan Hawke
Writer(s) Kurt Wimmer, Mark Bomback
Producer(s) Neal H. Moritz, Toby Jaffe
Origin United States, Canada
Running Time 118 minutes
Genre Action, adventure, sci-fi
Rating 12A

Totally awful remake.

If you aren’t a particular fan of the original Total Recall (released in 1990, directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger) you may think that a remake isn’t such a bad idea. The original was heavily criticised at the time for its over-the-top, stylised action, and its weird blend of hard sci-fi and bawdy comedy.

But Verhoeven’s Total Recall is a smart movie masquerading as a dumb one. Behind the outrageous action sequences and tongue in cheek humour was a clever science fiction script by Ron Shusett and Dan O’Bannon (who also wrote Alien). While it deviates wildly from the source short story, it retains a lot of the paranoia which permeated the writing of Philip K. Dick.

In contrast Len Wiseman’s remake has aped the serious thriller tone of the Bourne franchise, but beneath this it is nothing more than a vacuous special effects fest. It is an irritatingly stupid film masquerading as a clever thriller.

The original film saw burly construction worker Douglas Quaid (Arnie) become bored with his life and visit Rekall Ltd, a company which implants memories of holidays on Mars – with the added perk of going there as a secret agent. But soon people are trying to kill Quaid for real, and the line between his real life and his implanted memories becomes blurred. By far the best thing about Verhoeven’s film is the fact that it is even more ambiguous than Inception. Maybe Quaid was a secret agent form Mars all along, living on Earth with an erased memory, or maybe the events of the film following his trip to Rekall all take place in his head.

Wiseman’s remake strips Total Recall of this clever ambiguity, settling instead for a hasty string of chase sequences, linked together by a plot that was handled much better the first time around. The twists are all the exact same, so if you’ve seen the original you’ll know exactly what is going to happen next at all times.

Quaid is now an average factory worker (played by Colin Farrell), and he doesn’t dream of visiting Mars this time, he’s just aimlessly bored with his life. For no discernible reason the remake also takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where a toxic gas has made the entire planet inhospitable, with the exception of England and Australia. The fact that he is clearly lucky to be among the tiny surviving population of the Earth never seems to occur to Quaid, but then again once the setting is established in the opening credits it is barely mentioned again by anybody.

Every deviation Wiseman’s Total Recall does make from the original script seems like a big mistake. The fact that Mars has been removed robs Quaid of his entire character motivation. He is constantly running away from the people trying to kill him, but even by the third act there isn’t any particular goal for him to run towards. Other woeful inconsistencies include the fact that despite being set in UK/Australia, everyone has an American accent – a futuristic motorway for hover cars is even referred to as an “Interstate” at one point. If the actual plot twists didn’t stick so rigidly to the original, this film wouldn’t make any sense at all. Wiseman’s Total Recall takes more time to tell less story than the original, and still manages to get it wrong.

By far the most baffling thing about Wiseman’s Total Recall, apart from the fact that he even bothered with this pointless remake in the first place, is the fact that he has cast Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), as big bad guy Cohaagen, and then keeps him off screen until the final fifteen minutes. When Cranston finally does appear he gives a surprisingly strong performance (he does a better job with a bad script than Farrell) but it isn’t enough to save Total Recall.

If you liked the original Total Recall, stay as far away from the remake as possible. Stay at home, rent the DVD, and get your ass to Mars.

- Bernard O’Rourke