Total Recall Review

If only they could unremember it for you…

Going where many, many futuristic sci-fi thrillers have gone before, Total Recall 2012 is an instantly forgettable experience. Say what you will about the Schwarzenegger-starring 1990 original, it at least had personality – chock full of the blunt satire and unapologetic violence that are the hallmarks of its director, Paul Verhoeven. This new version is so bland it barely has the strength to stay up on the screen. What makes it doubly frustrating is that there was plenty of scope for a different take on the story – a deeper and darker exploration of the rabbit-hole plot, with its multiple memories and shifting loyalties, while remaining faithful to the spirit, if not the letter, of original author Philip K. Dick. Does no-one remember a little film called Inception?

Anyone hoping for the small compensation of another trip to Mars will also go away disappointed. Director Len Wiseman and writers Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback opt instead to stay on Earth, but an Earth made largely uninhabitable after an unspecified future global conflict. Two factions are all that remain of humanity: the United Federation of Britain (woo-hoo!) and the Colony (Australia, natch). Alas, hopes that this setup might allow for some sort of post-imperial, post-Commonwealth satire are quickly dashed. A massive tunnel running through the centre of the planet connects the two states (handy if you’re a cricket fan, at least). Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), a factory worker inexplicably dissatisfied with his lot despite being married to Kate Beckinsale, decides to go to Rekall, a company specialising in the implanting of fake memories, to have the experience of being a secret agent. But the procedure goes wrong and Quaid is forced to go on the run from the authorities, who are suddenly very eager to catch him.

Any hope that Total Recall v2.0 might be a worthwhile enterprise disappeared when Wiseman was announced as its director. Judging from his track record, it became clear that there was no genuine interest in searching for a different and more interesting take on the familiar story; the studio knew they had a brand name on their hands and they simply wanted to monetise their asset. Rumours of a sequel to the original rumbled through the 90s; one can only assume they got bored waiting and decided to hit the remake button instead.

Wiseman is, at best, a competent director: Die Hard 4.0 was reasonably entertaining, but his Underworld movies are loud, derivative and boring. Total Recall finds him in this latter mode. He appears to have no sense of storytelling or pace. The plot twists unfurl themselves with clanging indifference – the ‘is it real?’ dilemma is almost completely ignored – while the action scenes run one in to another with little in the way of comprehensibility, let alone excitement. Even some of the scenes where people are standing around talking are treated like action sequences, the film equivalent of throwing enough mud at the wall in the hope that some might stick. I would compare it with watching somebody play a computer game, but that would probably be a disservice to computer games.

While undoubtedly slick, the remake’s visual design rips off previous Dick adaptations Blade Runner and Minority Report, along with a bit of I, Robot thrown in for good measure. There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before, except perhaps the giant tunnel through the centre of the Earth, and it’s probably best not to examine the science of that idea too deeply. The inevitable nods to the original film are cute (hey, it’s the girl with three breasts! Cheers, Les), but only serve to underline the complete lack of originality on display here. Farrell and Beckinsale aren’t bad, but are worthy of better stuff than this. Simply put, it’s late summer trash of the worst kind and a stain on the original’s good name.

Gavin Midgley

Updated: Sep 07, 2012

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