Let’s face it, Hollywood loves a remake. In a world seemingly out of ideas, films from the days of old are revamped with CGI and sold to a new generation who might not be familiar with the source material. The 2012 version of Total Recall is one of those films, remade from the 1990 Paul Verhoeven film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. This time Colin Farrell stars as Doug Quaid, a simple factory worker who gets his synapses screwed up and discovers that the life he’s been living is lie.
In this distopian future, the earth has been rendered uninhabitable save for two areas, the United Federation of Britain and New Asia AKA The Colony. As in the original film, our hero is married to a too-hot-for-him wife (Sharon Stone in the 1990 film and Kate Beckinsale in the new version) and living a boring life as a lowly worker in The Colony. After seeing countless ads for Rekall, an artificial memory implantation service, he decides to fork over some cash and download some fake memories of life as a secret agent. There’s just one problem, he actually was a secret agent and he’s previously had his memories wiped by Cohaagen (Brian Cranston), the leader of UFB special forces. Now discovers that his wife is actually an agent out to kill him and the mysterious woman haunting is dreams (Jessica Biel) is actually a rebel agent named Melina. Now he must try to recover his lost memories and help free the world from the tyranny of the UFB.
It’s impossible not to compare the new version with the original film, but unfortunately, the new film doesn’t stack up. Verhoeven has made some wonderfully tacky films (Showgirls anyone?) and that sensibility worked for a 1990 sci-fi flick. Who doesn’t remember the three-breasted hooker or the dude with the little mutant growing out of his chest? Those elements are replaced by polished CG and lots of gunfights. Seriously, LOTS of gunfights.
The entire Mars storyline is missing and we get a heavy political message instead. In movies, things always suck in the future and someone’s always trying to fight against some kind of government corruption, but the original film managed not to get stuck on that. The remake dumps us into a complex and convoluted world of espionage, greedy government exploitation, and potential genocide. The original film had some of those elements, but it also had those cool animatronic effects of people depressurizing on the surface of Mars and a mutant puppet telling Schwarzenegger to fire up an ancient reactor.
The new version feels completely action heavy. Every five minutes, Biel and Farrell are in a huge shooting match with a robot army or some special forces guys. Apparently there will also be an endless supply of bullets in the future. They dodge explosions or get into futuristic hover car chases, but they don’t really unravel any mystery. In the end, the whole thing feels like Blade Runner meets Memento meets Minority Report meets The Fifth Element, but that doesn’t add up to a successful film.
The only real plus is the visual creation of a futuristic world. Instead of the Demolition Man future of the 1990s, we get an “East meets West” amalgamation of Asian architecture and endless hologram screens. It’s reminiscent of the stylized world in one of my favorite movies, The Fifth Element, and it gives Recall a unique flare in an otherwise cliche sci-fi adventure.
Overall, Total Recall feels like a slightly more complex version of the paranoid, oppressive authority, integrated technology sci-fi films we’ve been seeing for years. While I like Farrell and Biel, this tale is better left to Schwarzenegger and Verhoeven.