Review: Total Recall remake, starring Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, John Cho and Bill Nighy
There are so many ironies involved and so many mind games we can play just thinking about the idea of a Total Recall remake. How well do people remember the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie about a secret agent whose memories have been erased? Do people remember it fondly enough that they are offended that there’s a remake? Have they largely forgotten it and don’t care that Colin Farrell is now assuming Schwarzenegger’s role? When history is written, which Total Recall will we remember?
It’s enough to blow anyone’s mind.
If you don’t recall the original Total Recall, there’s a chance you’ll be entertained somewhat by the remake, but even then, it may fall a bit flat for you. Both movies are based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, and both have the same promising sci-fi concept: sometime in the future, an ordinary Working Joe named Douglas Quaid decides to visit a service that will implant memories in his head – a virtual vacation if you will. When he does, his life explodes. He discovers that maybe his life isn’t his own – that he may in fact be a double agent caught in a conspiracy involving very precious living space. His wife may be his wife, or she may be a double agent herself. A second beautiful woman involved may be his partner and lover, or she may be leading him down a dangerous path.
Or it may all be in his head. Either way, it all leads to lots of fighting, lots of gunfire, lots of chases and some great action sequences.
And that’s true of both Total Recalls, which kind of makes this new one disappointing. Aside from some tweaking, they didn’t go anywhere new with it. The concept is a good one – what’s real and what isn’t? And in a smart script and a smart movie, a lot could be done with that.
The original Total Recall veered away from any deep thinking, but if memory serves, that’s OK. It was 1990. It was practically still the 80s, and Arnold was the biggest movie star in the world. We were willing to sacrifice a brainy sci-fi plot for some Schwarzeneggerian fun, and as Arnold movies go, Total Recall is actually one of the best. It was “An Arnold Schwarzenegger Movie.” This isn’t “A Colin Farrell Movie – it’s one any hunky action hero looking for a paycheck could have starred in.
The new version from director Len Wiseman follows the same general pattern, and if you remember the original, you aren’t all that surprised. The settings have changed a bit (the first went to Mars, we stay on Earth this time out) and it’s certainly moodier, but the plot unfolds exactly the same with a more serious tone.
What, you haven’t seen the original, so you’re fine with that? You may not be. We’re in a different age now, and I’d like to think sci-fi should be smarter. And if it isn’t, it’s laughed off like Battleship. Think of the remake of TV’s Battlestar Galactica: the second version took an OK concept that came off cheesy at first and turned it into allegory on the War on Terror, religion, the human condition and so much more. Maybe Total Recall didn’t have enough time for all that, but it could have taken Dick’s original story and turned it into more than a shoot-em-up. Other than a couple of cliché moments where characters yell things at Quaid, like “She’s lying! Shoot her!”, you don’t really question what is the movie’s or Quaid’s reality.
The shooting is pretty good though, and there are some inventive action scenes. The movie makes the most of its futuristic architecture and its mass transit systems, allowing for some great chases on land and in the air. And there are some great sci-fi gadgets as well (I’d bet half the audience would relish a phone implanted in their hand. You’d never lose it!)
Quaid’s greatest foe in the movie is his wife, played by Kate Beckinsale, who is totally into her role as a diminutive sexy ass-kicker. She is a lot of fun in the role originally played by Sharon Stone to the same effect. (It’s an interesting change from the original, where Quaid’s two love interests were the very blonde Stone and the darker, more ethnic Rachel Ticotin. Here, the two women – Beckinsale and Jessica Biel – look almost the same, with only their height able to help us tell them apart).
Quaid’s weakest foe in the movie is Bryan Cranston as Great Britian’s villainous chancellor. It’s hugely disappointing to see the guy bringing such vitality to Walter White on TV’s Breaking Bad do what is essentially Dr. Evil. In the Arnold movie, that might have been OK for some fun. But in this modern remake that tries to maintain a darker tone, the villain comes off as laughable. One can’t help but think of Austin Powers towards the end. Let’s just say the words of Scott Evil came to mind: “I have a gun. Why don’t you just shoot him?”
So – in the future, what will audiences recall when they recall Total Recall? Arnold. And the action movie that brought Arnold to Mars. And then as an aside, some will ask: “Was there a remake of that?”