Talk about an unnecessary remake. This wasn’t just a poor facsimile of the original, it was as if director Len Wiseman ran Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 original through a copy machine so many times, perpetually copying each copy, that every last ounce of intelligence and thematic relevance found in the first movie faded away, leaving only the basic story foundations intact. Total Recall is a sad and perfect example of “all style and no substance.”
Let it be known that despite the surface similarities to the original, I was actually one of the few people I know who was looking forward to seeing what Wiseman and his team could do with a different approach to this film. The original is pretty goofy at times, and a more serious take on Phillip K. Dick’s original story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” could have tackled the same themes of identity and reality while losing the often-cheesy Schwarzenegger one-liners. But Wiseman and his writers Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback remove any sense of ambiguity from the proceedings and essentially dumb this movie down into wall-to-wall action that ends up being shockingly boring considering how many setpieces pop up along the way.
Wiseman directs like a gun for hire, shying away from anything that would be considered taking a risk and instead sticking to conventional means to tell a story-by-numbers that has lost all of the fun of the original. There’s a tiny moment where a chase is shot like a third person video game, but aside from that, there aren’t any sequences where it feels like any chances are being taken. Everything is slick and sexy and rainy and wet – the production design is by far the best part of the film – but it’s totally empty inside, the movie equivalent of a Kardashian in a bikini.
The cast is willing and able, and all the leads do an adequate job, and even the normally-great Bryan Cranston was pretty matter-of-fact as the uninspired villain. In this rejiggered version of the film, there’s no trip to Mars and Cohaagen’s plan to kill everyone on one of Earth’s two mega-cities seems preposterous and idiotic. Colin Farrell loses the one-liners and brings a stone-faced seriousness to Quaid/Hauser, but sacrifices some of the character’s humanity by not letting him have any fun whatsoever. Beckinsale seems to be enjoying herself as the deceptive “fake” wife, slipping back and forth between an American and British accent when she breaks character, but you can only watch so many scenes of her chasing Farrell and a gun-wielding Jessica Biel before you mentally check out. I love action movies, but there’s almost too much action happening here. When there’s no danger of the main characters dying, action sequences have to be fresh and inventive to keep my attention; otherwise, everyone is just going through the motions and there’s no dramatic connection to anything that’s happening.
Say what you will about the 1990 version of this movie, but at least Robocop director Paul Verhoeven injected some intelligence into it underneath the violence. Removing the ambiguity from the film takes away the most important part of the story: it’s not the explosions and car chases that made the original Total Recall great, but that we had to think a little bit in an action film that made it stand out. I’m sure there are instances in which Hollywood tried to capitalize on the brand recognition and spectacularly missed the point of the original product, but I can’t think of any that miss the mark more than this version of Total Recall. Until next time…