REVIEW: 'Total Recall'


Say what you will about remakes, but at least you know what you’re getting. In the case of the new Total Recall, the expectation is a straightforward sci-fi/action film based on the Philip K. Dick story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”. And that’s what we get from director Len Wiseman: an uncomplicated, entertaining summer flick.

Unfortunately, that’s about all Total Recall has to offer. There’s no hard-hitting theme and not enough character drama to merit a second viewing, and the script wastes a number of opportunities to challenge its audience. For all the flash of its updated special effects, it’s likely that the original Total Recall will be the one that viewers remember.

We find ourselves in the year 2084, when the Earth has been left mostly uninhabitable by chemical warfare. The only safe areas are in Britain and Australia; the former is a gleaming metropolis and the latter is an overcrowded slum. The two zones are connected by a massive tunnel through the centre of the Earth, used by workers from "The Colony" in Australia to commute to factories in the city.

Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is one of these factory workers, but his simple existence is plagued by nightmares that feel like memories of a former life. He decides to try out a service called Rekall, which promises to implant his mind with exciting memories of a life as a secret agent. Instead, the Rekall process sets off a chain of events that throws everything in Quaid’s life into question: his job, his marriage, even his own identity.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the original Total Recall, the story is classic Philip K. Dick. The themes of conspiracy, authoritarian government and the nature of the mind pop up through almost all his works, many of which have been the basis of movies like Blade Runner, Minority Report and The Adjustment Bureau. But where those movies had a heavy dose of “thinking man’s sci-fi”, the new Total Recall goes light on theory, preferring explosions to discussions.

The action is helped by the world Len Wiseman built for the remake, which would be heaven for a parkour practitioner. There’s so many moving structures and smooth surfaces that there’s always somewhere for the characters to run, jump and shoot from. But without any physical barriers, the action scenes go on much longer than they should. I kept trying to guess when the leads would finally stop tumbling around and actually say something more expressive than “Up here!” or “Come on, let’s go!".

It carries over to the story, as well. One of the tried-and-true tips of storytelling is to give the characters an obstacle they can’t overcome, and watch how they deal with it. In Total Recall, there’s very few problems that can’t be solved by a punch or a burst of gunfire. Everything, from Quaid’s identity crisis to the threat he poses to the resistance movement, is fast-tracked to make room for more fights and chase scenes.

When the movie does try to challenge the audience, it’s done in a ham-handed way. There’s a key scene when Quaid is still unsure of his reality, and a character tries to convince Quaid to kill his accomplice Melina (Jessica Biel), to prove that he’s still plugged in at Rekall. Handled correctly, the scene should make the viewer wonder about what they've seen so far - we should be asking, "Was any of it real?" But because the characters spend the whole scene pointing guns at each other, their conversation just feels silly. Wiseman wastes a good chance to build some suspense, and soon we’re back into another hail of bullets.

If that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for, then Total Recall does it very well. Len Wiseman draws on all the slick choreography from his Underworld movies to craft some thrilling run-and-gun sequences. Without a substantial story, however, it all blends together - no matter how hard the cast tries (even with Bryan Cranston as the villain). Total Recall gets two and a half stars out of four.

What did you think of Total Recall? Was it entertaining? Thought-provoking? Did it live up to the legacy of the original? If you haven’t seen the 1990 version, will you go back and watch it? Post your thoughts in the comments section! If you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers, and check out some of my other reviews:


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