‘Total Recall’ Has An Identity Crisis

Total Recall:  2 out of 5
Doug Quaid:  If I’m not me, then who the hell am I?
Get your ass to…London?  It seemed like it would be easy to constantly compare this remake to Paul Verhoven’s excessive, but entertaining Arnold Schwarzeneggar sci-fi/action flick, Total Recall, but the film has lifted so many different elements from an assortment of other action and sci-fi films that comparing it to just one movie would not do enough justice.  The worst thing about this new Total Recall, similarly based on Philip K. Dick’s science fiction short story, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” is that it drops the most interesting aspect about its story – the idea of whether or not we are supposed to believe what is happening.  The lack of ambiguity, along with the lack of much in the way originality or personality in the filmmaking, make this a very expensive film that has little to offer, beyond some fancy special effects, which will only be blandly recalled after.

Set in 2084, devastation of the planet has left two habitable areas on earth:  the Federation of the British Republic and The Colony (formerly Australia).  The Colony is basically a ghetto and the only way to access it, is by a high speed lift (elevator), which travels through the earth itself (passing by the core on the way).  So people travel back and forth to get to work and what not.  The story revolves around factory worker Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell), who has violent nightmares, suggesting another life.  Despite being married to Lori (Kate Beckinsale) and having secure job employment, Quaid decides to visit Rekall, a corporation that provides clients with artificial memories of exciting dream vacations.  Unfortunately, this is the exact place that Quaid should not visit, or should he?

Quaid’s presence at Rekall immediately sets off alarms, as police raid the building and kill all inside, except Quaid, who manages to kill the entire squad without breaking a sweat.  Now he finds himself on the run, soon learning that the life he knows is a fake.  Quaid used to be Hauser, a secret agent (just like his Rekall vacation was supposed to be), but was given memory implants.  Quaid’s wife is actually an agent hired to keep him in check, but that ends once she starts chasing him down, with intent to kill for the sake of the ruthless corporate leader Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston).  Fortunately, Quaid finds an ally in Melina (Jessica Biel), who can hopefully lead Quaid to rebel forces that want the best for The Colony.  Now if only Quaid could remember the key to saving everyone.

What is weird is how the movie wants to recall the original film more than I do.  I was fine with the idea of updating this story, because it is a good premise for a sci-fi film, which I could easily separate from the original.  However, this new version seems to rely heavily on the idea of the viewer already understanding the premise, since it brushes through so much of the plot, with little explanation.  One scene in particular, regarding confrontation with a best friend, flat out does not work, because of the lack of ambiguity already going on in this film, despite directly resembling a scene from the original film.  It is pre-assumed knowledge that just left me shaking my head and wondering how coherent this film would be to a new viewer, beyond seeing that Quaid needs to not be caught for some reason.  The film also comes with various nods to the original, which are fine and expected, despite adding next to nothing for anyone unfamiliar.  I mean really, seeing a three-breasted woman is great and all (in a PG-13 film no less), but it just feels jarring and strange for this film.

I did like the idea of Colin Farrell as the lead character.  Sadly, he did not really get to do much in the way of acting, beyond react with some disbelief, before settling into his “action guy” routine.  We see no remorse from him when it comes to the fact that he is essentially killing people that tried to kill him and the idea of him actually being a secret agent seems more exciting to basically anyone else, but him.  I felt the same blandness from the rest of the cast as well.  Beckinsale may be the only one who is kind of having fun here, but no one really brings anything to this film worth noting, including Bryan Cranston’s ridiculous wig.  It is also worth noting that while the original had a fun and racially diverse cast, this new version has been, pretty much, completely white-washed.  And despite England and Australia being the only places left in the world, everyone has an American accent (we even had an Asian bartender named Murray).

The movie looks expensive.  I can certainly give it that.  Director Len Wiseman (Underworld; Live Free or Die Hard) has managed to apply his mediocrity to a large scale that suggests how much creative freedom the visual effects artists and production/costume designers had in designing a world that means little overall if the story is so poorly handled.  There are some ideas that seem interesting in concept (much like the film as a whole), but many of them have been better served elsewhere, which this film seems happy to acknowledge.  Total Recall cribs from Minority Report, Blade Runner, Firefly, The Bourne Identity, and a host of others, along with taking a cue from the J.J. Abrams school of requiring lens flare in every shot.  

There is credit due to the fact that the action is at least coherent and the film has not been converted to 3D.  It still seems sad that most of it is pretty unremarkable.  Save for one cool action set piece set aboard elevators that seemed to have come out of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, I was displeased to find that action involving hovercars and rooftop chases did not do a whole lot to keep me entertained.  I also understand that robots were brought into this film, basically as a way to keep the human body count down, but this had to be one of the least interesting uses of robots in any film I have seen.

Lastly, getting back to one of the main ideas that makes this story interesting, the entire possibility of Quaid maybe living out his Rekall fantasy or being stuck inside his mind is just not present in this film.  I can see some semblance of that aspect, but either it was cut or the film has done a very poor job at establishing this important point.  Either way, it renders much of the film as a needless chase thriller, given that I did not care for what the ultimate villain goal was or have any other interesting level to appreciate the film on.

Total Recall is an expensive missed opportunity.  Despite having a good premise, that I could have been on board with, even though I have already seen it, and a cast that could have provided a lot more to grasp onto, I left the film feeling nothing.  It certainly has a lot of action, with a fair amount of variety, but I did not latch onto much of it.  Some of the world building was cool enough, but it did not help too much overall.  And the film decided to distance itself from its more intriguing concepts.  So instead of caring more about this film, I’ll just join Richter at the party.
Cohaagen:  You don’t have the most reliable of memories, do you?

Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS3.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.


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