A remake of the 1990 Paul Verhoeven/Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Total Recall follows Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), a factory worker with a seemingly mundane life who starts to suspect he’s a secret agent after visiting Rekall, a company that creates false memories for their clients.
It’s hard to go and see a remake of a film without having prejudices. Total Recall (1990) is brilliant in many ways but it is your typical Arnie movie in that it’s cheesy, the acting is wooden and by today’s standards the effects are a little bit, well, rubbish.
So could a remake do a better job and be more respectful of the Philip K. Dick’s short story, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, upon which both films are based? Well the producers said that it would more closely follow the story, but does that, along with modern special effects, some big A-List stars and plenty of hype make it a great film? As we find out all of the time, no.
If you’ve seen the original, or even if you haven’t, the story is simple. Set in the next century, Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) has a boring life. Apart from being married to the stunning Lori (Kate Beckinsale) he apparently doesn’t have much fun in his life. So when he hears about a company called Rekall that can implant exciting but false memories, he goes along hoping to see if they can spice up his life. He chooses the memory of a secret agent. Within seconds things start to happen that convince him he must be a spy and that the life he knew was just a cover.
It’s not a deep movie, there is some mild suggestion that everything Quaid is experiencing is part of the false memory, but the audience’s intelligence isn’t insulted by trying to convince us this is a massive twist. In fact it’s just a typical run of the mill action movie with goodies, baddies, sexy ladies, hunky men and lots of explosions.
There are nods to the original, the large lady going through customs and the “you’re gonna wish you hand three hands” moment, but despite its vastly different background story, with the resistance fighting occurring on earth rather than Mars, the original is still much, much, MUCH better.
The problem with the remake is you don’t care about the resistance, in fact I’m not entirely sure what all the fuss is about anyway. OK there’s a bad man leading the so called oppressors (Bryan Cranston), but no one really seems to care other than a small band of freedom fighters. What happens when they win anyway? There’s no earth equivalent of that big alien terraforming plant on Mars, so from what we can see things will remain as rubbish as they always have been, minus the bad man at the top.
Yes, the effects are brilliant, as we expected, and there is an intriguing back story about Earth being all but decimated by chemical warfare so the surviving population is left to live in cramped conditions in just two ‘healthy’ territories, Judge Dredd anyone? But, it’s just not good enough to get us on-board. A straight copy of the original might have been better, but then there’d still be something missing, and we never thought we’d say this, but we missed Arnie. Of course he’s a rubbish actor, but that means he’s perfect for certain characters and the beefcake naivety he used to play the original Quiad made the character his, Farrell just doesn’t come close.
There was one welcome surprise though; Beckinsale was brilliant as Quaid’s faux wife and then hunter. Amalgamating two characters originally played by Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside, she clearly has stepped up her game to prove she wasn’t just hired because hubby’s the director and we loved watching her go from loving wife to angry, almost psychotic, spy.
But by comparison, lacklustre performances from Jessica Biel and Bokeem Woodbine and quite frankly not enough Bill Nighy or John Cho make you yearn for the backdrop of Mars, the loveable mutants and occasional action scene. Strangely this remake does seems to have too much action, there’s hardly a moment when someone isn’t being chased or blown up, which gets a bit tiresome and after a while you’re left impatiently waiting for the end so you can get a Johnny Cab home.
Best scene: Quaid asks an ‘enhanced for your pleasure’ lady directions to Rekall.