If you have read my review for the Arnold Schwarzenegger Total Recall film you will likely know that I revere it as one of the last great practical effects movies and an excellent piece of sci-fi. That and a film that is pretty much badass for a full two hours. It is odd how in the late 80s and early 90s films managed to balance multiple elements like that, by which I mean strong action coupled with strong sci-fi. These days, that sort of combination is few and far between. For every The Matrix there’s at least 2 sequels and 5 copycats that just don’t get it. With the ratio of good action sci-fi to bad action sci-fi being so poor these days, what chance does a remake of Total Recall directed by Len Wisemen have? You probably know the answer already…
In Total Recall Dennis Quaid wants to go to Mars but his wife is, like, a total bitch about it so he goes to Rekall (a company that implants memories) to get the memory of a lifetime… rekall, rekall, rekall. He goes for the spy plan but turns out he already was a spy with altered memories. Whilst on the run from some scary dudes with guns Randy Quaid heads to Mars to find answers, kick some arse and save a Martian mutant colony from not having air given to them. Also, it may have all been a dream which is a key plot point the whole way through.
In Total Recall, the 2012 remake, starring Colin Farrell, Randy/Dennis/Doug Quaid has been having a dream about running from some people. This leads him to go to Rekall to get some memory holiday where he’s a spy but then Harold from Harold and Kumar realises that this guy is already a spy! Quaid goes on the run and doesn’t go to Mars. Instead there’s something about robots and an invasion of Australia, which is now called The Colony”. Also, there are characters in this film that have the same names as characters from the original and a load of things happen that look a little like stuff that happened in the original cos who needs ideas any more, right?
I cannot begin to tell you how much this film represents everything that is wrong with modern cinema. It’s stupid, loud and misses the point by some way. It only pays lip service to the ideas the original had whilst being more concerned that certain scenes or moments are recreated for the sake of fan service. The fan service that doesn’t involve upskirts I mean… it does include three boobed girls though. Speaking of the three boobed girl, she makes no sense here. There is no Mars, so there is no mutants. There is only mention of advanced re-constructive surgery in the extended cut of the film, where an added element is that Quaid’s face was reconstructed in the process of having his memories erased so they could get an Ethan Hawke cameo. So now three boobed girl is just some woman how has three boobs and not a product of the world she has been born into being put in a position where she must use her mutation to get by. Instead she’s a woman who must have chosen to have three boobs, and to suck dicks. This is a prime example of how they were more concerned with chucking in anything they could from the Arnie film that people would remember.
Here’s a list of things that are also here just because it was present in the original film. Quaid jumps through some glass. Quaid gets a silver rectangular lock box full of clues, which he uses 2 of. The Rekall machine has the same circular blue design, at least the head part does. A character claims to have been inserted into Quaid’s dream to pull him out in a horribly over long scene that has no consequence, unlike the similar scene in the original which is the thematic tipping point. Quaid gets discouraged from going to Rekall because they may have lobotomised a guy. Quaid gets a mystery phone call telling him where to go. Quaid pulls a thing that’s tracking him out of his body, this time a hand cell phone. How modern. Quaid makes a joke about divorce that is entirely forgettable, unlike Arnie’s joke. Quaid says “If I’m not the real me, then who the hell am I?”. A frumpy woman’s says she is staying for “two weeks”. In the same scene Quaid is wearing a hologram necklace that projects a different face onto his head. This malfunctions. We see the same device used again later by another character despite it being established that it is an unreliable piece of technology.
I think you get the idea. The whole way through the film you get this feeling that their main concern is having stuff move fast whilst things are either shot or exploded. Events in the original that were a sequence of scenes used to build tension and character are instead rattled over in second to get to the next action scene. To it’s credit the action scenes aren’t too bad. They’re steadily shot, have direction within the plot and are at least quite varied. The issue is that there’s just too damn many of them. They aren’t badass or schlocky enough to to ever reach that realm of ridiculous that many films can survive on. Instead they’re just well made sequences that begin to tire as they come at you way too frequently. To add to that they rely on visual effects way too much. Even a simple one on one fight has to have digital backgrounds and elements all over the shot.
The first real action sequence, where Quaid freaks out on the Rekall chair and kills a load of police is especially jarring. The IMDB trivia page for this film claims it was a one take fight that Farrell had to do 22 times before he completed it. Bull and shit I call. That sequence has many, many cuts and is a series of shot digital composite shots, all done separately, that utilise foreground objects to mask the cuts. There’s even clear changes in the angles used as one “hidden” cut moves to the next in a way that make so spatial sense. If Farrell did perform the actions in one take they certainly were not used here. This sort of fakery always drags me out of a film, especially when the sequence could have been done in one shot. Hell, Michael Cera completed more impressive long take fight sequences in Scott Pilgrim Vs The World.
When it comes to the supporting cast most are pure phoning in their performances with maybe John Cho being the only one attempting to inject any character into his role. He’s on screen for about 30 seconds and then gets shot to death. The cast is full of the sort of actors you’ll recognise from good productions, I’m guessing with the hope being that you’ll think this is good by proxy. It also has Kate Beckinsale. Jessica Biel is doing the best she can as Melina but, bless her, she’s just not got much to work with. Bill Nighy appears in a role he probably hadn’t even looked at for longer than 5 minutes before doing his half day of shooting. Bryan Cranston is the main villain, Cohaagan, who doesn’t appear in person, only appearing on videos beforehand, until about the 90 minute mark. I guess they were trying to build him up as a threat before he appeared but the plot was so backwards from the beginning that by the time he does appear we’ve lost all interest.
Plot wise, as mentioned, the film is a mess. Cohaagan wants to invade The Colony because they still have land space, which is the most valuable thing on Earth now after two thirds of it was made inhospitable in a chemical war. To do this he has blamed a resistance for civilian attacks so he can get support behind building more robot troopers. Here’s a problem, why build loads of robots when there’s literally billions of people who’d probably work for cheap to do the same task? He already has an army of men. You get the impression people aren’t as morally black and white in this world any-more, so why not hire and army instead of spending millions on each robot. Quaid builds these robots for a living by the way, a benefit he uses once on a random black robot that appears at the end of the film with no indication of what makes it special. Also, we hear Quaid has been living this lie of a life for 6 weeks, but has years of memories of working at the factory. Surely someone there would have mentioned not seeing him until 6 weeks before. Especially when he mentions the scar on his hand from an apparent industrial accident that actually occurred during his spy days.
Another issue is that we’ve got this threat of an invasion to the Colony but we know nothing about them. We don’t know any of the people that live their. What their plights may be. All we learn, eventually, is that they haven’t begun building cities into the clouds and so Cohaagan wants that space. Apparently they’re slaves to the UFB (United Federation of Britain.. yes that’s what other country is called) but we don’t see that. There’s also a hell of a lot of confusing geography going on. I got the impression that Quaid lived in the UFB and travelled to the Colony to work, as many people seem to do. They get there via a giant lift that travels through the centre of the Earth called The Fall. So Quaid travels to the colony, to build robots, that are shipped back to the UFB so Cohaagan can bring them with him to invade The Colony. Thing is that makes so little sense to me that I was questioning if Quaid lived in the UFB or The Colony. Rekall appears to be in The Colony, he goes there after sharing a drink with his friend after work. It has a very Asian look which fits The Colony’s look. But then this would mean he would have had his spy mental breakdown and then travelled back for 2 hours on The Fall to get home to fight his wife. I just can’t make sense of this locationally. There’s a few moments where they appear to have fallen to the lowest levels of the UFB, which looks just like London does now, except with more red phone booths and iconic imagery, and then a few action scenes later they are much higher up. Also, surely in a world where there’s only one transport method to the only other habitable space on the planet there’d be a premium for using it or at least more than one of them.
Overall this is a thematic and storytelling mess of a film. It brushes over anything that could have enriched the world or characters in favour of blowing things up. So little time is spent on giving Quaid a character his sole character moment that isn’t confused anger comes down to him mentioning wishing he could play the piano and later discovering he can. Which, of course, triggers a plot point in the form of a hologram of Ethan Hawke, in the extended cut at least. I had to laugh when the first production company logo that appeared on the screen was for a company called Original Films. Total Recall is literally as far away from being an original film as you could imagine. It is a remake that does nothing new, that relies on spectacle other substance and boils all characters down to their most basic archetypes. The worst part is that the original book, We Will Remember It For You Wholesale is pretty much a basic concept followed by a blank slate where the film’s creators could have done whatever they wanted. That’s what Paul Verhoeven, Ronald Shusett and Dan O’bannon did. Len Wiseman did the exact opposite. He failed to dream and instead shoehorned the premise of Total Recall into a far less rich and dull world.