Director: Len Wiseman
Stars: Colin Farrell, Bookeem Woodbine, Bryan Cranston
Plot: A factory worker discovers he used to be a spy and is forced to go on the run in an effort to discover the truth behind the life he can’t remember.
Film producers seem to have short memories – their perception of time appears to be skewed compared to the rest of us. The summer blockbuster season is all well and good, but if imperious trilogies can only be anemically extended (The Bourne Legacy) or films remade that only came out ten years ago (The Amazing Spiderman), then this serious lack of ideas does not bode well for the future. So it’s fitting then that a reboot of Total Recall, about forgetting oneself, should round off what has been a disappointing few months for a film audience increasingly hungry for originality.
At the end of the 21st Century, a chemical war has reduced the Earth to two main habitable areas – the United Federation of Britain (UFB) and the Colony (Australia). A number of residents from the Colony commute to the UFB’s factories via a gravity elevator called ‘the Fall’ which connects the two territories straight through the Earth’s core. A group of resistance fighters led by Matthias (Bill Nighy) that operates in the UFB, are up against Chancellor Vilos Cohaagen (Cranston). A factory worker named Douglas Quaid (Farrell) is tired of his repetitive life and decides to visit Rekall, a company that offers implantation of artificial memories as an escape from reality. McLane (John Cho) convinces Quaid to experience the life of a secret agent, but before he can be implanted, Quaid is found to have past memories of being a spy. Suddenly, a SWAT team bursts into the room, killing all the Rekall employees, but leaving Quaid who resists arrest and shoots the officers before escaping.
Quaid goes home to tell his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) what happened. Loti suddenly turns on him and reveals that she is an undercover UFB agent working for Cohaagen and has been monitoring him for the past six weeks – after trying to kill him, Quaid escapes once again. Hammond (Dylan Scott Smith), a man claiming to be a former colleague, contacts Quaid via a phone which is embedded in his hand and tells him about a safe-deposit box which he must locate and open. He then cuts out the phone from his hand to avoid being traced by Lori and the police. Upon finding the box, Quaid finds a recorded message from his former self, with instructions on what to do and where to go. He is led to what was formerly his apartment in UFB. On the way he meets Melina (Jessica Biel), who is a woman he has had repeated dreams about but didn’t know why. He discovers that he used to be a double agent for Cohaagen, going deep undercover with the Resistance – he had switched sides upon realising that Matthias’ cause was worthier. With the truth finally out, Quaid has to come face-to-face with Cohaagen in order to destroy his army and prevent an invasion of the Colony.
For all its faults – the hammy script, corny lines, over-the-top acting – the original Schwarzenegger-starring Total Recall was above all, fun. Unintentional humour is easy to come by when watching the 1990 film, with its obvious 80s cinematic hangover in full evidence. Whereas Paul Verhoeven injected charm into the proceedings Len Wiseman, alongside screenwriters Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback, have taken the basic plot but drained the entertainment value into a serious affair with nowhere near as much enjoyment. As a stand-alone film, the rebooted version is not bad, with some cracking CGI especially where the gravity lift is concerned, even though the mere idea of it is preposterous. The plot twists and turns, but more in a predictable way rather than in a sense that catches fans of the original off-guard. Sure, there are a few nods to Arnie, such as the thrice-boobed hooker and a ‘two-weeks’ lady (although this is more of a sly sleight of hand), but some humour really would have lightened the mood, which at times is borne out of too many viewings of Blade Runner – rainy, claustrophobic streets are now too much of a futuristic cliché.
Colin Farrell’s versatility is without question. He has mostly plied his trade in big action films, but he can pull out a nuanced performance if required. He fits into the role of Douglas Quaid adequately, even though he is overshadowed by the big-budget special effects that fill the screen in every scene. Kate Beckinsale, who has made a name for herself as Selene in the Underworld films, steps into Sharon Stone’s shoes as the not-so-dutiful-wife. Sadly, Beckinsale irritates more than thrills as she turns from Suzie Homemaker into some relentless T-1000 with a scowling face that would make Megan Fox seem Oscar-worthy. Jessica Biel is there purely for eye-candy but even she isn’t quite as terrible as she has been in many an awful rom-com. Wiseman’s direction and Paul Cameron’s cinematography are largely forgettable, except where they blatantly rip off Blade Runner and Minority Report in the chase scenes. One major quibble with Hollywood rears its ugly head once again – when filming in ‘London’, can we not have a red bus and a Mini, replete with a shot of Big Ben in the background all at once? Rumour has it that James Bond and the Queen can be seen on the street corner, having a natter about the ‘terrible weather we’re having’.
Total Recall is a nice idea if you think about Britain ruling the world. On the other hand, there’s little difference in general plot to make this anything other than below par. If there was a choice between the two, watching Arnie with a towel wrapped round his head, trying to stick a metal rod up his nose, wins every time.