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 which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger. I actually found myself getting a little bored while watching the 2012 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 if I hadn’t seen the Verhoeven/Schwarzenegger action classic beforehand because my attitude towards this new version would have been the same.
It’s a shame because Wiseman, who’s best known for his “Underworld” movies, did such a fantastic job with “Live Free or Die Hard.” That had me coming into this remake with high hopes that 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 we get a depressingly bland and uninspired movie that even its excellent special effects can’t come close to saving.
The story remains the same; 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 is at the present. Doug tries to remedy this by going to Rekall, a company which specializes in artificial memory implants, but that goes haywire when he is met by a SWAT team which he quickly eliminates. From there he is on the run as he comes to discover that his life is not at all what he thought it was.
The only real difference between this and Verhoeven’s movie is that Wiseman keeps the action earthbound. No one gets their ass to Mars this time around, and 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 kind of functions like the Lex Luthor’s Escape ride at Six Flags Magic Mountain except that people have gotten used to the speed of the drop.
With this movie not taking its story to Mars, I was convinced that Wiseman would not be giving audiences the same old thing with this remake. But the events here are not much different from what Verhoeven gave us over 20 years ago (yes, it’s been that long). Even if this particular version did get its ass to Mars, I’m not sure it would have made things all that more interesting. With actresses like Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel in this movie, I’m surprised the action 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 that Lori is not much different from her character of Selene from the “Underworld” movies, and that the only difference between Selene and Lori is that Lori is not wearing any tight fitting leather clothing. Whatever the case I don’t really care because it’s a lot of fun watching her kick butt at any chance she gets. That fierce look in Beckinsale’s face is hard to pass up as she aims to eliminate Douglas Quaid in cold blooded fashion.
Biel is fun as well as Melina, and that’s even though her character feels like the same one she played in “The A-Team” from a few summers ago. Other actors like Bryan Cranston who plays President Vilos Cohaagen and Bill Nighy who portrays rebel leader are wasted in roles that are ridiculously underwritten. That’s a shame especially in the case of Cranston who does look like he’s having some fun playing such a corrupt leader. Then again, Cohaagen probably pales in comparison to that character Cranston plays on “Breaking Bad.”
It is easy to say that Colin Farrell is a far more accomplished actor than Arnold Schwarzenegger could ever hope to be, but the former Governor of Kal-ee-for-knee-uh proves to be the better Douglas Quaid. Farrell isn’t bad here, but Schwarzenegger had an amazingly strong screen presence in the 1990 film that is hard to compete with. For some odd reason, Schwarzenegger back then seemed more believable as an average blue collar worker than Farrell does here (go figure).
I’m guessing that ever since Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” movies, filmmakers have done their best to avoid campiness in action films like this one. The original “Total Recall” did have a level of campiness about it, but that ended up making Verhoeven’s movie all the more fun to watch. At the same time, that film never went overboard in camp value, and it kept a strong element of humanity about it which got the audience more emotionally involved in what was going on.
For Wiseman, “Total Recall” represents a total immersion into the realm of CGI effects. With “Live Free or Die Hard,” he didn’t rely on them as much, and he was determined to use the real thing as much as possible. That made the action in that movie 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 at times lack friction as you cannot past the fact that you are watching something that is nothing more than a visual effect.
One thing I loved about Verhoeven’s “Total Recall” is that throughout its running time, you could never figure out if what you were watching was real or a dream. Verhoeven 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 the movie frustratingly boring as a result.
In a sea of endless Hollywood remakes, “Total Recall” proves to be one of the more unnecessary. Someone like me is at a disadvantage here because I’m huge fan of the 1990 version, but it still doesn’t make up for the numerous shortcomings in Wiseman’s movie. Douglas Quaid’s adventures are filled with possibilities which make for the most exciting and entertaining of movies, but this one is not much fun and won’t stay in the mind as long.
As for Wiseman making more movies in the future which are dominated by CGI effects, he should consider this a divorce. You’re a good man Wiseman, you are meant for more than this!
* * out of * * * *