Total Recall (2012)
By: Julian on September 12, 2012  | 
Director: Len Wiseman
Starring:: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bill Nighy
Screnplay: Kurt Wimmer, Mark Bomback
Country: USA
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My response to a Total Recall remake was, I'll admit, somewhat mixed: Colin Farrell, who plays Arnold Schwarzenegger's character Douglas Quaid, is a solid performer and Len Wiseman turned in pretty serviceable efforts with Underworld and Die Hard 4.0. The flipside of course is that Paul Verhoeven's 1990 film is one of the greatest action movies ever made, possibly the director and star's best, and certainly not something you would expect to be surpassed, or equalled, or even respectfully approached in the form of a Farrell-Wiseman vehicle.

But that's being slightly unfair, and also slightly predictable: remake bashing is a fashionable thing, and Farrell and Wiseman are at worst completely adequate, so I had a reasonable amount of confidence that a remake disaster of The Fog proportions was not imminent. So, lowering my expectations, and reminding myself that no fun would be had if I constantly cross-referenced what was on screen with that great movie from my formative years, I went in.

A brief synopsis for those who haven't seen the original. The setting is a late-21st century Earth, most of which has been rendered uninhabitable by chemical warfare. What is left is in two parts: the United Federation of Britain (UFB) and the Colony, which is none other than Australia. You can guess which of the two societies is further developed and better resourced. Enter our protagonist Douglas Quaid, an ordinary guy happily living in a shoebox apartment with his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale, reprising the role played by Sharon Stone in the original), but is bored out of his skull working at a factory that manufactures robot soldiers for the militaristic government led by Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston).

One day a workmate tells Douglas about Rekall, a place where bored guys can go to have memories implanted. Emboldened, Douglas heads over to Rekall and has a chat with the guy running the place (John Cho, one half of Harold and Kumar). Before long Douglas is wired up and about to have his selected memory implanted, one where he is a double agent working both for the despotic Cohaagen government and the militia forces wanting to overthrow Cohaagen, headed by the mysterious Matthias (Bill Nighy).

Douglas is about to begin the procedure when Rekall realise that Douglas's fantasy overlaps with his reality, a big no-no when one is seeking to have memories artificially sewn. In an instant, Cohaagen's troops burst in and when Douglas coolly dispatches a dozen-odd heavily-armed soldiers, he realises that he may be more than just a factory worker.

For those who have seen the original, this all sounds very familiar. But Total Recall 2012 and Total Recall 1990 are very different beasts. For one, this movie has a much slicker sci-fi aesthetic. The redux is all about floating cars, towering concrete jungles and various hi-tech gadgetry to make the Earth that Douglas inhabits a futuristic sort of dystopia. The raw action of the original film is exchanged for science-fiction flashiness, and that's a shame. Perhaps it was Wiseman trying to put his stamp on a unique movie, but this is far more of a hi-tech science-fiction film, and less of the frenetic, shoot-'em-up actioner that Verhoeven's movie was. Which of the two genres you prefer will depend on how much you enjoy this movie; I'm firmly in the latter camp.

Which brings me to the biggest point of difference between this movie and the original: despite Total Recall '12 looking a lot more creative than the original, we don't go to Mars. Not ever. Instead, we have the division between the UFB and the Colony, and the two are connected by a gravity train known as the Fall. The principle is there - travel between two colonies vastly different socially and economically, and screenwriters Kurt Wimmer (Law Abiding Citizen) and Mark Bomback (Unstoppable) make a bit of an attempt at a vague social commentary that doesn't quite gel.

The performances are all very good. Colin Farrell, predictably enough, slots into the tough-guy role with ease. For me, Farrell is a slightly underrated actor, and while this isn't quite the sort of movie to showcase his acting chops, he clearly loves the pace of it all and takes advantage of the platform to look like Arnie. Kate Beckinsale as Lori and Jessica Biel as Lori's opposite number, Melina, are fine, but neither are the most versatile of performers - if you've seen Underworld you know what to expect from Beckinsale, and if you've seen Blade: Trinity you know what to expect from Biel. Not that that is necessarily a criticism. Both have impeccable credentials as action movie queens, and they both do a nice job here: the firefight in the hallway (which reprises the Stone-Schwarzenegger elevator scene in the original - "consider that a divorce" - albeit here the outcome is not the same) is a particular highlight.

Does this compare to the original? No. And if you haven't seen the original, make that the first thing you do once you finish this review. I prefaced this review by saying that a viewer should watch this movie without thinking about the Verhoeven one, yet I've made constant reference to the 1990 film throughout this review - it's hard not to. But although rabid fans of Total Recall '90 will be immediately hostile to this, even at a base conceptual level, I reckon that Total Recall '12 was a pleasant surprise: original (enough), well acted and with enough action to keep a man normally averse to the whole futuristic, science-fiction bit totally amused for 120 minutes.
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