Innovative action and incredible cityscape designs highlight big budget sci-fi re-make
By Jimmy Gillman
Production-designer-turned-director Len Wiseman’s straight laced but lively re-make of the popular 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle is a reimagining of premise and plot bolstered by innovative action, incredible cityscape designs and a hi-octane performance from co-star Kate Beckinsale.
While Wiseman’s Total Recall isn’t as bloody or fun or even as close to the original source material as director Paul Verhoeven’s version—both films are based on sci-fi legend Philip K. Dick’s seminal short story, We Can Remember It for You Wholesale—its core storyline concerning a factory worker whose memory may have been implanted remains completely intact.
That takes some of the surprise out of Total Recall for those who have seen the previous account. But screenwriters Kurt Wimmer (Law Abiding Citizen) and Mark Bomback (Unstoppable) go for broke by eliminating the story’s tie-in to the planet Mars, replacing it with a class struggle between the two remaining countries on Earth.
How the aforementioned catastrophe came about is explained in the film’s opening titles, though the information goes by too quickly, making it a bit more confusing than what turns out to be in play, the particulars of which become clear as the story progresses.
Colin Farrell plays Douglas Quaid, a disenchanted blue collar guy with a beautiful and loving wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale, excellent in the film’s best performance). Quaid’s been having the same dream night after night concerning his attempted escape from a place he swears he’s never been with a woman he does not recognize (Jessica Biel).
Concluding he’s simply bored with his humdrum existence, Quaid decides to visit Rekal, a company whose clients have fantasies embedded into their minds as real memories. Quaid opts for the “secret agent” package, but before the procedure takes, a group of hi-tech soldiers bursts into the exam room and kills the attendants before Quaid erupts and kills the intruders.
Freaked out at what he’s just done, he returns to his wife. But instead of receiving sympathy, she tries to kill Quaid, telling him he’s not who he thinks he is and that his memory has been replaced, kick starting one of the film’s many memorable chase sequences in which futuristic landscapes serve as backdrop for Quaid’s search to discover his true identity and determine if what he’s experiencing is real or just another dream.
While this Total Recall eventually settles into a formulaic plot after the premise is revealed, its main conceits, fine production values and the overall solid performances keep it interesting. Beckinsale is clearly at the top of her game and fun to watch throughout, but Farrell, who’s terrific in the action scenes, is otherwise unconvincing as the disillusioned and disoriented Quaid.
Despite his uneven performance and its other shortcomings, the story’s inherent strengths and the film’s occasional nod to deeper issues make Total Recall worth seeing in this latest form. Far from great, it’s a steady re-make with a few nice twists and a rating (PG-13) that keeps it focused on character and plot rather than blood and gore.
Author’s Note: A Director’s Cut of Total Recall is available on Blu-ray. This superior version is 12 minutes longer and features an alternate ending—a subtle change that completely alters (and makes more powerful) the film’s denouement and everything that comes before it.