/ total recall
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In the late 21st Century, Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) has bad dreams. A factory worker in The Colony (one of the two remaining habitable zones on the planet), his mundane waking life is plagued by suspicions of a life he might have lived before. Despite his loving wife and carefree friends, he yearns for something more. Enter ‘Rekall’, a company that can give you the experiences of a lifetime, right from the comfort of your own home. For a price, Rekall can give you synthetic memories of being rich and famous, of being a captain of industry, or of living the action-packed life of a spy. Quaid chooses the latter, but something goes wrong: suddenly SWAT teams are out to capture him, his wife wants to kill him, and a corrupt chancellor wants to invade his nation. Now, with the help of resistance freedom fighters, Quaid must race to discover who he really is… and by doing so, save the world.
Total Recall isn’t a bad movie. Director Len Wiseman (Underworld and Live Free Or Die Hard) is a capable visualist, and the future world of Total Recall is a creative, if busy, amalgam of Bladerunner-y Orientalism, sleek Spielbergian robotics, and anime styling. Colin Farrell is a believable everyman and endearing action hero; Kate Beckinsale makes for a fun Richter/Lori hybrid; and Bryan Cranston (TV’s ‘Breaking Bad’) is, true to form, a consummate bad guy. The action scenes are efficient and for the most part, concise. Although it won’t win any awards for quality or high art, there’s much to like in Total Recall, disposable as it is. The problem with the film is that we’ve seen it all before – literally.
If you’ve seen the 1990 Paul Verhoeven classic, there’s absolutely no reason to see this movie. Despite a superficial facelift (the film takes place on Earth instead of Mars, for instance, and a plot hinged around a pole-to-pole mag-lift through the planet’s core), the same story beats and circumstances – down to lines of identical dialogue – are repeated here verbatim. The screenplay is claimed to be an “adaptation” of the original Philip K. Dick short story, but ironically more accurately reflects the 1990 version than its source material. Oddly, the 2012 version anticipates your familiarity with the Arnie outing, including many amusing and intentional allusions to the original. What it fails to do is make this familiarity interesting or surprising. As events play out in exactly the same sequence, in almost exactly the same way, there’s little to do but tally the small ways they’re tweaked for exactly the same effect – and how much better they were when you first saw them years ago.
While the Arnie classic is no piece of art itself, it has become something of an icon for two reasons. For one, the film is the pinnacle of 1980s cinema excess: a hyper-violent, special-effect-driven actioneer, where OTT moment builds upon OTT moment to deliver a dizzying, delirious slice of sci-fi cheese. For another, the film’s very excess plays directly (and intentionally) into its theme of distrustful, duplicitous reality. In the original Total Recall, we are constantly asked to question what we’re watching. Is Arnie’s Quaid really on Mars, chewing gum and taking names? Or is it all a delicious delusion, care of the folks of Rekall Incorporated? A strong case can be made for both readings, and the film, for all its perceived stupidity, has its cake and eats it too. The same cannot be said for this contemporarily outing, where the themes of twisted reality – reflected in the very execution of the original film itself – are never truly addressed.
Total Recall 2012 is a prime example of a superfluous, needless remake, where familiarity with the original is not only a source for poor comparison, but a detriment to watching it at all. The film is déjà vu in the most ironic sense, and not at all in the world-saving, gun-toting way we all wish it could be.