After watching Len Wiseman’s remake of “Total Recall,” I wanted to ask my fellow audience members what they thought of it in hopes of finding a few who hadn’t seen the original directed by Paul Verhoeven. I actually found myself getting bored while watching this particular cinematic interpretation of Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale,” and I figured it was because I had seen the original dozens of times. But in retrospect, I don’t think it would have made a difference because my attitude towards this new version would have been the same in that it does not work in the slightest.
This is really a shame because Wiseman, best known for his “Underworld” movies and “Live Free or Die Hard,” had me coming into this remake with high hopes. I figured he would make this material his own and create an endlessly entertaining action flick. Instead, he drains all the fun out of the story, and what we get is a depressingly bland and uninspired motion picture which will be easily forgotten regardless of its excellent visual effects.
The story remains the same as before. Construction worker Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is living an ordinary existence with his loving wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale), and wonders why his life isn’t further along than it already is. He attempts to remedy this by going to Rekall, a company which specializes in artificial memory implants, but it all goes haywire when he is met by a SWAT team whom he quickly eliminates. From there, he is on the run as he comes to discover is life was never what he thought it was to begin with.
The only real difference between this “Total Recall” and the original is that Wiseman keeps the action earthbound. No one gets their ass to Mars this time around as the future presented here shows Earth having been decimated by a global chemical war which has divided it into two superpowers: the United Federation of Britain and The Colony. They are both battling one another for supremacy, and transportation to and from each nation is done via “The Fall,” an enormous gravity elevator which functions like the Lex Luthor’s Escape ride at Six Flags Magic Mountain. If there is a difference, it is that the characters here have long since gotten used to the speed of the drop.
With this “Total Recall” not taking its story to Mars, I was convinced Wiseman would be giving us something other than the same old thing with this remake. Having said that, events here are not much different from what Verhoeven gave us years ago. Even if this particular version did get its ass to Mars, I’m not sure it would have made things all that more interesting. Even with actresses like Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel, I’m surprised this remake didn’t go all the way to Uranus (sorry, I couldn’t resist).
Speaking of Beckinsale, she is one of “Total Recall’s” best assets. Some will say her Lori is not much different from her character of Selene from the “Underworld” movies, and that the only difference is that Lori is not wearing any tight-fitting leather clothing here. Whatever the case, I don’t really care because it’s a lot of fun watching Beckinsale kick butt at any chance she gets. That fierce look in her eyes is hard to pass up as she aims to eliminate her antagonists, particular Douglas Quaid, with extreme prejudice.
Biel is also fun to watch as Melina, and that’s even though her character feels like the same one she played in “The A-Team.” Other actors like Bryan Cranston who plays President Vilos Cohaagen and Bill Nighy who portrays rebel leader Matthias are wasted in roles which are ridiculously underwritten. This is a shame in the case of Cranston who looks to be having some fun playing such a corrupt leader.
Now Colin Farrell is a far more accomplished actor than Arnold Schwarzenegger, but even the former Governor of California proves to be the better Douglas Quaid. Farrell isn’t bad, but Schwarzenegger had such a strong screen presence in the 1990 film which is hard for anyone to compete with.
I’m guessing that ever since Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy, filmmakers have done their best to avoid campiness in action films. The original “Total Recall” did have a level of campiness about it, but that made ir all the more entertaining to watch.
For Wiseman, his “Total Recall” represents a total immersion into the realm of CGI effects. With “Live Free or Die Hard,” he didn’t rely on as he was determined to use the real thing as much as possible. That made the action in that sequl all the more invigorating, and I wish he got more of an opportunity to go in that direction with “Total Recall.” True, the special effects are amazing especially in the design of the cities which the characters inhabit, but the action scenes lack friction as you cannot past the fact that you are watching something which is nothing more than a visual effect.-
With Verhoeven’s “Total Recall,” you could never figure out if what you were watching was real or a dream, and he teased you with the possibilities throughout. but Wiseman instead makes the story more straightforward which frustratingly robs the story of its more suspenseful moments. The tension ends up disappearing at key moments which makes what we see utterly frustrating as a result.
In a sea of endless Hollywood remakes, “Total Recall” proves to be one of the most unnecessary. Someone like me is at a disadvantage here because I’m huge fan of the 1990 version, but this one is nowhere as much fun.
As for Wiseman making more movies which are dominated by CGI effects, he should consider this a divorce. Come on Wiseman, you are so much better than this!
* * out of * * * *