Arnold Schwarzenegger kicking ass on Mars and a three-boobed hooker is the kind of unashamed fun that has helped Paul Verhoeven’s original Total Recall, released in 1990, become a cult favourite of sorts. Now comes the inevitable remake which attempts to be more grounded by keeping events on Earth. But will it prove to be as crazily entertaining as the original? In short: No.
Granted, whilst Total Recall sports some stunning visual effects which perfectly bring to life the crowded Blade Runner-esque world and features some genuinely innovative action scenes, these only serve as a frail attempt to distract you from the distinct lack of ideas that seem to populate the rest of the film.
It’s the end of the 21st century and, plagued by warfare, the world has gone to hell leaving only a few habitable areas left. Colin Farrell, on a bit of a remake bender currently having starred in last year’s disappointing Fright Night remake, stars in the Schwarzenegger role of Douglas Quaid, a factory worker who feels destined for more. Quaid visits Rekall, a business that implants fantasy memories in the minds of customers which inadvertently triggers a strange realisation that he’s an actual spy who has had his own memories erased.
Soon he finds himself in the middle of a struggle between Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston (having a very bad hair day), who wants to invade the remaining territories left on Earth and Bill Nighy who stands opposed to him in the group imaginatively called ‘The Resistance’. To make matters even worse for Quaid, his wife (Kate Beckinsale) who is in cahoots with Cranston, tries to kill him whilst another woman (Jessica Biel) claims to be his real lover.
Gone is the dark and sardonic wit of Verhoeven’s version along with the tongue-in-cheek and enjoyable manner in which he approached the material. In a frail attempt to cover-up the weak plot we are instead treated to an array of chase sequences which soon become repetitive and tiresome only serving to complement the dull, monotonous and largely predictable story which becomes quite plodding by the end.
The characters and their motives are similarly left in the dust and forgotten about, something that is not helped by the lack of chemistry between any of the actors. Farrell does his best with a role that essentially requires him to do little other than fire a gun and then run away with the script failing to make him as root-able or likeable as Arnie. Beckinsale is mildly amusing as his lunatic, terminator-like wife but even she cannot escape the lazy and uninspired characterisation that similarly befalls Biel and Cranston whilst you’ll wonder why Nighy is in the film at all.
Like Quaid’s own confused mind Total Recall is an insipid mess and offers a feeling of emptiness. This is a film where you neither care what happens nor fully understand why it is and, perhaps most criminally, provides a sense that you are never having as much fun as you should be. Watch the original and save yourself from this experience which you may prefer to forget.
Total Recall (2012), directed by Len Wiseman, is distributed in the UK by Sony Pictures, Certificate 12A.