Directed by Len Wiseman
Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
I remember being somewhat excited about the prospect of a Total Recall remake when it was first announced, and being more excited still when there were talks that this new incarnation wouldn’t be a straight remake of the 1990 Paul Verhoeven/Arnold Schwarzenegger actioner so much as another adaptation of sci-fi legend Phillip K. Dick’s smart source material, the 1966 short story “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale”. Well, apparently those were nothing but lies, as the resulting film is essentially a rehash of that earlier film, with no attempt made to mine the original story for anything richer than excuses to sling action setpiece after action setpiece at the audience. Pity.
Much like the Verhoeven film, this version of Total Recall concerns Douglas Quaid (Farrell), a blue-collar factory worker who seems to yearn for a more exciting life, even though he’s happily married to the beautiful Lori (Beckinsale). Quaid fills his days with work and sleep, until he catches sight of an ad promoting Rekall, a company that offers to implant false memories into customers seeking a little excitement in their otherwise humdrum lives. Of course Quaid visits, choosing to live out his dreams as a secret agent of sorts, only something goes wrong: the implantation brings out Quaid’s true memories of actually being a double agent for a corrupt federation and the resistance that fights it, a truth that had been lost (or hidden) from our hero. This revelation brings a host of would-be assassins down on Quaid’s head, including Lori (also a double agent) – all of them under the rule of the villainous Cohaagen (Cranston), a chancellor who is attempting to stamp out the resistance that Quaid has elected to fight for. Along the way, our hero attempts to recover his lost memories and former life, bringing him into contact with Melina (Biel), a former lover of Quaid’s whose father Matthias (Nighy) leads the resistance.
Gone from the previous film adaptation are Mars, Kuato, the wonky humor, and the practical special effects. In their place – loads of CG, and an onslaught of action scenes that seem meant to bludgeon the viewer into submission, or at least into some sort of stupor (maybe then, the reasoning might be, one won’t notice the film’s entire lack of a brain and soul). And before we go any further, let me get one thing perfectly clear: I’m no champion of the Schwarzenegger flick. It’s a big, dumb, otherwise well-made action flick that mostly manages to entertain (like most of Schwarzenegger’s big, dumb action flicks). Compared to Dick’s story, though, it’s a gaudy, silly, overblown mess. We are left to wonder what David Cronenberg might have made of the film, which he was once attached to in the mid-80s before producer Dino De Laurentiis decided he wanted a far more lowbrow take on the material. However, as disappointing as that original film is, it at least has a pulse, which is sorely missing from this incarnation.
It’s a shame, too. Certainly, this film had the resources. The budget was obviously huge, production designer Patrick Tatopoulos’ work is eye-popping, and the cast is filled out with more than capable actors. In fact, none of the thesps here seem to realize that they’re in a bad film. Farrell makes for a fine lead, as is mostly typical. Indeed, he’s a far better choice for everyman Quaid than Schwarzenegger ever was. Biel, Nighy, and Cranston do what the film requires of them, and with more skill and talent than was likely needed. But it’s Beckinsale who seems to be having a blast here. Her Lori is a great creation, and a better version of the character that Sharon Stone once portrayed. You can practically see the giggle in her eyes as she chews scenery and kicks ass.
Still, even with all that’s going for it, the movie is torpedoed by its lunkheaded script and unimaginative direction. Whereas the story and original film were concerned with the lead character’s existential dilemma (is his adventure real, or a creation of Rekall’s?), Recall 2012 limits its mindfucking to a single scene, keeping the film’s main conflict comfortably set to “Duck! Watch out! Jump! Bullets!”
And of course, because this is a Len Wiseman joint, the entire film has an unnatural, metallic blue sheen to it (broken up with the occasional burst of warm color and some annoying Abrams Trek lens flares), along with several expensive action sequences that are so damned monotonous they might just put you to sleep. You might remember Wiseman as the guy who gave us the Underworld franchise, or as the filmmaker who completely pussified the Die Hard series (likely for all time). Then again, you may not know him at all, and this film likely won’t change that. How Paul W.S. Anderson catches more hell than this guy, I’ll never know.
Sigh. Look, we’re moving in the wrong direction, folks. The 1990 film took a smart concept and dumbed it down into a loud action flick that was palatable to the masses. Now, twenty-two years later, we have a remake that dumbs down an already pretty stupid flick. Oh, but I fear what the next version of this story will look like a couple of decades down the line.
Still, the movie’s quality and box office failure haven’t prevented Sony from giving Total Recall a damned good release to disc. The image is as sharp as one would expect from a big budget studio flick, keeping it looking as fantastic as a dull-looking film can. Skin tones are…well, everything’s blue anyway, so it doesn’t really matter. Seriously, everyone looks like a damn sexy Smurf in the film. The audio is pretty great, too, full of the tiniest details awash in the film’s intense action.
On the bonus features side, we have Total Recall with Insight, a neat feature that allows viewers to check out the film with some cool behind-the-scenes info courtesy of director Wiseman. We also have a gag reel, which is about as funny as most gag reels, and two featurettes on the film’s sci-fi elements and “The Fall”, the film’s huge (and quite improbable) subway that runs through the Earth’s core. Bonus features exclusive to Blu include a commentary by Wiseman, along with two additional featurettes covering the film’s stuntwork and action sequences. The extended cut of the film, running twelve minutes longer than the theatrical cut, is a Blu-only feature as well, and is the version of the film reviewed above. I would’ve watched the theatrical cut to compare the two versions and list the differences…but I didn’t want to. This movie has claimed enough of my life. It gets no more.
If you’re a sci-fi fan jonesing for a hit of something shiny, look past this empty action flick for your fix. There are far better, far smarter films both new and old awaiting you out there. And for fans of the original film or story, don’t let your curiosity get the better of you. Be content with the memories you already have, and don’t bother replacing them with this junk.
Disc 1: Blu-ray feature film
Disc 2: Blu-ray
Disc 3: DVD feature film
1 1/2 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5