Total Recall: Don’t Live In The Past, Enjoy The Present
What you’ve been versus who you are– this is the major recurring theme in Total Recall, Len Wiseman’s remake of the Paul Verhoeven classic. I’m sure the filmmakers seriously hoped the audience would watch their film using this mantra, as anyone who comes in expecting a stone-cold replica of the first may be disappointed. Verhoeven’s rendition is stuffed with one-liners, R-rated profanity and violence, and a wicked sense of humor; it aims for satire and interplanetary science fiction. Wiseman goes for straight-forward non-stop action– the R rating is gone, as is Mars. The new Total Recall is set entirely on a futuristic Earth: the same story in a different setting. As a huge fan of the first, I found the remake to be enormously fun, full of the outstanding visuals and breath-taking action you’d hope to find in a summer blockbuster. Though the film makes one or two obvious references to the first film, make no mistake… it’ll stands on its own in your memory bank.
Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) hasn’t been sleeping well. He has dreams of being a spy on the run with a beautiful woman (Jessica Biel), and they end with him being shot and apprehended. In real life, Quaid is a dime-a-dozen factory worker with a loving wife (Kate Beckinsale), an easygoing best friend (Bokeem Woodbine), and a lousy apartment in The Colony, the slummier of two remaining portions of an Earth ravaged by chemical warfare. The nicer portion, the Federation, is governed by a chancellor named Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) and constantly attacked by a resistance led by a terrorist named Mathias (Bill Nighy). Keeping track? Quaid decides these dreams mean he’s meant for something more important, so he goes to a facility called Rekall, in which a doctor (John Cho) implants memories into your system. Unfortunately for Quaid, when the procedure begins, armed forced storm the room. Even more unfortunately, he kills them all with relative ease, making him a man on the run with a past he has no idea how to find. When he heads home and his wife tries to kill him, it throws him even more for a loop.
Farrell can’t quip one-liners like Arnold Schwarzenegger, star of the original, can– however, Farrell has a look necessary for the role. He could be an everyday schlub or a believable psycho ass-kicker. The script of this remake does a great job condensing the characters and the plot points of the first: Beckinsale isn’t only the wife, she’s also the maniacal henchman hungry for blood; Woodbine isn’t only the friend, he’s the man who tries to talk Farrell down at a key point in the plot (fans of the original know). The actors have no need to chew the scenery– though Cranston’s hair tries hard to do so– but they are all convincing in their respective types. There’s also scores of action here that wasn’t possible when the first was made. While the occasional obviously CGI-enhanced camera movement is somewhat off-putting, many shots are wide and follow our characters on chases through a myriads of rooms and buildings. The gadgets are more advanced too– among the cooler devices are hand phones, a gun that creates “eyes” in the room, and advanced disguise technology compared to the usual rubber masks.
The real triumph of the film, however, is the world Wiseman’s production design team (with their whopping 200 million dollar budget) has created. It’s a gorgeously complex futuristic society full of sliding doors and elevators, reversing gravity, and floating cars. More importantly, it’s not merely eye candy. Wiseman allows the action set pieces to take full advantages of this world’s advancements: a floating car chase sequence is clever, as is a pursuit within a series of multi-directional elevators. If you’re not smiling when Farrell propels himself in zero gravity by firing his gun in the opposite direction, then maybe this film isn’t for you. I’m not going to claim that the film doesn’t have its dumber twists (the subway system between worlds will likely cause eyerolls from those wanting the film to be bad) or its more convoluted or underwhelming plot moments (Cranston’s sudden appearance in Act 3 doesn’t have the grandeur the moment deserves). Where this film does overwhelmingly deliver is in creating an exciting Blade Runneresque world and allowing its characters to chase each other through it for an inventive non-stop 100-minute thrill ride. It’s what I want in a summer blockbuster. It may not live up to its predecessor, but I can’t control the accomplishments of the past; I can merely enjoy the accomplishments of the present.
Postscript: the critical drubbing this film has received is beyond ridiculous. Many mention that the film isn’t as smart as its predecessor while ignoring the superior action and visuals. Several also use the phrases “kinetic” and “thrill ride” as if they’re insults. What kind of movie did critics think this would be? How do movies that are equally full of plot holes yet have far inferior action– namely, The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man– receive praise from most critics across the board and this one gets smashed? I suppose that regarding inventive action sequences with disgust is in vogue.