With the Earth rendered uninhabitable at the end of the 21st Century, the populace are over-crowded into two remaining super-nations – The Colony and The United Federation Of Britain. While Chancellor Cohaagen (Cranston) attempts to stop the efforts of rebellion leader Matthias (Nighy), factory worker Doug Quaid (Farrell) feels dissatisfied with his life and is suffering from recurring nightmares about being a spy. Though reassured by his wife Lori (Beckinsale), Quaid visits Rekall – a company which sells implanted memories – and discovers that he really is a spy whose memory has been erased…
While many Arnie fans objected to news that Total Recall was to be remade, there’s no reason why it couldn’t have worked. Sure, the Paul Verhoeven-directed original (which is actually more of a Verhoeven film than it is a typical Arnie actioner) remains an enjoyable blend of mind-bending plotting and stylish ultra-violence, but there was room to reinterpret Philip K. Dick’s short story with better effects. Disappointingly though, despite director Len ‘Underworld‘ Wiseman’s promise that his remake would offer more emotional exploration (which, to an extent, it does), the result is ironically unmemorable. On its own (and for new audiences unfamiliar with 1990 version), Total Recall 2012 offers a perfectly serviceable sci-fi thriller, but in comparison it lacks the energy, invention and satisfaction of Verhoeven’s.
Fundamentally, there are issues with what it chooses to keep and with what it changes. On the one hand, all the story’s key beats and twists remain the same, meaning that there’s a creeping sense of familiarity and no major narrative surprises in store. On the other, the movie is constantly (and noticeably) straining to be different from his predecessor in terms of the details (IE, a bead of sweat in the key ‘it’s all a dream, you must wake up’ scene is replaced by a tear) – which only serves to remind us of the original. But while there are consistently reminders throughout (we get a three-boobed hooker, there’s a scene where Quaid stares out from a train at an un-breathable landscape, he quips after arms are chopped by a lift), the absence of Mars is felt. Perhaps worst of all though, it lacks the ambiguity surrounding whether Quaid’s mission is real or not. Which, as anyone familiar with Verhoeven’s classic will tell you, is what makes it so enduring.
In fairness, Wiseman does a decent job of drawing us into this world during the opening half hour, but by the bombastic, CG-heavy final act you’re essentially just waiting for it to finish. While there are some nice touches peppered throughout (the iPad-like fridge is cool), there are also some silly ones (having your phone in your hand?). As for the central idea of a shuttle which travels from one side of the planet to the other (via the centre of the Earth), it feels oddly less plausible than a colonised Mars. But while a few elements are reminiscent of other genre movies (the robots feel like leftovers from I, Robot and the flying cars recall Minority Report), the futuristic cityscapes look amazing. Yes, they crib a little from Blade Runner, but there are some genuinely stunning shots (such as where Quaid looks out over his balcony).
While Wiseman’s action is spatially confusing at times (whenever characters are jumping about elevators and cars), he treats us to an effective rooftop chase early on and a few surprisingly decent Bourne-esque dust-ups. The consistently underrated Colin Farrell is excellent too in a nice piece of casting (why try to out-Arnie Arnie?), both kicking-ass and ensuring that the quieter scenes occasionally prove involving (see Quaid visiting his ‘real’ apartment). Kate Beckinsale, meanwhile, gives good hardass bitch (if a little one-note, Terminator-ish), combining both the Sharon Stone fake wife and Michael Ironside henchman characters rolled into one. Elsewhere, Bill Nighy, Bryan Cranston and Jessica Biel never make much of a mark, but character actor Bokeem Woodbine makes an impression despite minimal screen time.
While there’s no reason that this remake couldn’t have worked, the result is ironically unmemorable. On its own (and for new audiences unfamiliar with the 1990 version) Total Recall 2012 offers a perfectly serviceable sci-fi actioner, but in comparison it lacks the energy, invention and satisfaction of Verhoeven’s.