I have a very large soft spot for the original 1990 Total Recall. Somehow, director Paul Verhoeven managed to infuse a typical goofy 1980s-style action film with some legitimately clever ideas and themes. The movie had its tongue planted firmly in cheek, but achieved its iconic cult status for going beyond being just another Schwarzenegger vehicle.
Fast forward to 2012, where director Len Wiseman has stripped away that great combo of intelligence and goofiness, leaving an uninspired, overly serious, and, quite frankly, boring sci-fi action romp, barely held together by solid performances and a largely unaltered core story.
Wiseman’s update of Total Recall remains true to the original plot (and, I assume, Philip K. Dick’s novel) for the most part, with any changes an attempt to ground the film in reality as much as possible. Taking place wholly on Earth rather than travelling to Mars, Total Recall 2012 again follows Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), a production-line worker frustrated by his unremarkable life, who visits the somewhat shady company Rekall in pursuit of memory implants which will offer a more exciting history than his own. All doesn’t go to plan however, when a malfunction at Rekall reveals that Quaid is in fact a secret agent whose memory has previously been replaced, kicking off a chase sequence that more or less covers the remainder of the film.
The always dependable Farrell commits himself admirably to a role that really doesn’t offer much development, and Wiseman surrounds him with a great supporting cast who unfortunately are given very little to do (Bryan Cranston and Bill Nighy among others). Jessica Biel falls flat as love interest Melina, but Kate Beckinsale is something of a surprise, relishing her villainous role and chewing every scene she appears in.
Unfortunately, Total Recall‘s story and action can’t match the quality of the performances. Unlike the original film, there’s never really any doubt about the reality of what Quaid is experiencing. Verhoeven managed an ambiguity which created tension early on, leaving audiences to speculate whether everything was taking place in Schwarzenegger’s mind, but Wiseman simply spells everything out plainly. There are numerous references to the original here too, most of which are unnecessary, while some are either needlessly distracting or simply blow by so fast that you wonder why they even bothered.
The most egregious flaws however are in the action sequences. Wiseman crafts the film like a platform video game, with characters running and jumping endlessly, stopping occasionally to deliver the next story beat. Perhaps it speaks to my general disinterest with modern video games, but the action sequences feel over-long and repetitive, and at the moments when the film should be at its most fast-paced, it begins to drag.
So Len Wiseman’s Total Recall isn’t the worst remake to come along in recent years, but it’s just another gritty reboot that no-one asked for. It suffers in comparison to the original, can’t really stand on its own, and feels like an unsuccessful blend of Super Mario Bros. and Blade Runner. What could have been a slice of fun nostalgia is taken far too seriously by a director of questionable talent, leaving Total Recall, despite Farrell and Beckinsale’s best efforts, simply the next in an ever-growing lineup of failed retreads.