Forget the future. I wish I could travel to the past so that I could avoid watching this faceless drone of a sci-fi flick based on the 1990 title by the same name. Not that its predecessor was much better, but at least it featured Arnold and his campy Austrian accent. This bland remake, despite its firestorm visuals and epic futuristic landscapes, had far too little plot interest and character to hold my attention for its two-hour running time.
Fans of the original may recall that it’s based on the short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick and tells the tale of a joe-schmo factory worker, Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), who has had his memory erased by a power-hungry politician named Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston). They’ll also remember that his wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale), initially seeming to be a caring spouse, turns out to be a traitor in Cohaagen’s employ. However, they may be disappointed to see that, with a couple of additional exceptions (like the three-breasted prostitute), that’s where the similarity between the two films ends.
The setting, for example, is totally different. While the bulk of the action in the original took place on Mars, this one is set on a post-apocalyptic Earth that’s been ravaged by chemical warfare in the late 21st century. The two remnants of human civilization that survived the carnage are the Colony and the United Federation of Britain, the latter of which is helmed by Chancellor Cohaagen.
Not that these discrepancies make a whit of difference, for Total Recall is little more than the 365,908 permutation of the good-versus-evil conflict. Oh sure, it’s dressed up as a man’s quest to understand his stolen identity. And—yawwwwwwn—we’re supposed to wonder about whether the present is fantasy or reality. Yet I think the main point is to establish a parallel between the turmoil in our own world—the rise of terrorism and the conflict between Eastern and Western armies that is prophesied to bring about Armageddon. It’s what you do when you aren’t clever enough to tell a real story: use a ponderous true-to-life message as a backdrop. In grasping your message and seeing the visually attractive worlds you create, viewers will feel smart along with you. They won’t have to think about Total Recall ever again because it said nothing meaningful about the human condition, but they’ll feel good after seeing lots of gunplay and explosions and being spoon-fed political mumbo-jumbo (it’s sad that so many people seem to like being told what to think).
It’s lamentable that the story’s so trite because Colin Farrell and Kate Beckinsale are a step up from their respective predecessors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone. Mr. Farrell’s face and demeanor have a certain blankness that seem apt for a man whose memory has been erased. He may lack Arnold’s sheer laughability, which many viewers seem to cite as one of the original film’s strengths, but I wasn’t aware that this was supposed to be a comedy. As for Ms. Beckinsale, a remarkably versatile actress whose roles have ranged from Hero in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to the vampiress Selene in the Underworld series, she shows that she can play a traitorous sneering cat bitch with the best of them. Sadly, she’s selling her talent short to even appear in derivative tripe like this.
Indeed, no word more readily comes to mind about Total Recall than derivative—from the hokey, overblown special effects; to the Star Wars rip-offs, including the coruscating high-rise cities of the prequels, the white-clad stormtrooper look-alikes of the sequels, and the ubiquitous premise of resistance against an evil empire; to the insipid dialogue (“If I’m not me, then who the hell am I?” says Quaid).
Oh well. Enough carping. Now to recall a happier time when Hollywood didn’t pick pockets with an endless stream of sequels and remakes.
Joe’s Grade: C-