One of the first things to bear in mind about Len Wiseman’s remake of Total Recall is that, unlike the original 1990 Schwarzenegger film, it is not a fresh adaptation of Phillip K Dick’s short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. For this re-imagining is nothing more than a visually spectacular CG laden retread through all too familiar territory and is enjoyable for what it’s worth (for an hour), but then sacrifices a satisfying resolution for a bombardment of generic gun play and chase sequences that offer nothing new in the way of character or story development.
Colin Farrell is Douglas Quaid, an embittered construction worker frustrated with his lot in life yet married to the beautiful Kate Beckinsale (one of the films many glaring contradictions). To fulfil a deep rooted need for excitement and escape Quaid visits Rekall, a back alley organisation that implants memories of fantastic adventures into the minds of the moribund so they can feel like they have just experienced something exciting and beyond the trudge of everyday life. During his procedure Quaid experiences a freak-out embolism, unlocking repressed memories of a previous life when he actually was a secret agent (for real). He then finds himself on the run from a troupe of secret agents and sucked into a subplot involving anti-capitalist protestors that may hold the key to who he really is.
Casting aside any assumptions that you are about to witness a groundbreaking interpretation of a story that could take many interesting forms in the hands of the right director or screenwriter, you might end up being pleasantly surprised. For Total Recall is the type of exuberant gun porn the may suffice after a couple of beers and a pizza. But despite the generic drudgery and the fact that it does stick closely to the narrative set up of the 1990 film, Len Wiseman’s remake brings several new interesting elements to the table in terms of visuals, yet takes an unwelcome detour from the original plot structure in the second and third acts.
Instead of offering a refreshing alternative to the Mars set second half of the original film, Wiseman resorts to a string of big gun action battles in a beat ‘em up finale that is nothing more than brain aching eye candy. He also ditches the original’s subtext in favour of these jimmied in set pieces and shiny sci-fi kung fu sequences. The film does work with a seemingly unique visual pallet when compared with the red tinted plastic of the Schwarzenegger flick evoking a grander more epic feel to the proceedings. But look closely and you can count the nods to a dozen other sci-fi movies neatly woven for the sake of studio demands or a total lack of imagination.
The opening bares similarities to both 2001: A Space Odyssey and Escape From New York (a film Wiseman was intending to remake before this), whilst the androids are the lovebot offspring of Star Wars stormtroopers and the droids from I, Robot. At times when Quaid is questioning his identity one can’t help but think of Jason Bourne, while the bleeding light glares that seep across the screen were not only mastered by Spielberg in Close Encounters of the Third Kind some thirty years earlier, but more recently used by JJ Abrahams in his visceral cry wank Super 8. In short it has all been done before and instead of a fresh take on the concepts of memory and identity addressed in the original Phillip K Dick story, what we get is another forgettable action lollop but with incredibly rendered cityscapes and robots haunting a Orwellian/ Asmiov hybrid town.
Wiseman’s remake is visually astounding on the surface level and the first act is very entertaining if not by the numbers, but without its Oscar worthy technical achievements Total Recall is flaccid trite. The slight detours and differences in the narrative are worthless excursions (Quaid doesn’t get his ass to Mars as he did in the original and there is no Johnny Cab). But the film rises ever so slightly out of the video shop dustbin, like some bloated half cousin of The Matrix that nobody ever loved, if not only to be patted softly on the head and bidded a sweet goodbye.
It would be interesting to see what Len Wiseman could achieve out of the studio system and with a decent, original screenplay instead of these plasticine remakes but (considering his back catalogue) at this rate we will never know.
Total Recall was released nationwide on 29th August.