Total Recall review

Review Den Of Geek 28 Aug 2012 - 09:35

Len Wiseman’s Total Recall remake is out this week in UK cinemas. Here’s our take on it…

Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall was a bloody, aggressive, fitfully funny sci-fi Wizard Of Oz for the 90s. Len Wiseman’s Total Recall, by contrast, is more like a sci-fi Bourne Identity – its lighting is darker, its camerawork shakier, its tone gloomier.

In the distant future, a chemical war has left Earth devastated, and what’s left of humanity survives in two vastly different cities on either side of the planet. On one, there’s the United Federation of Britain, a gleaming metropolis of the wealthy and powerful governed by the despotic Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston). On the other, there’s the Colony - formerly Australia - a benighted, rain-swept mass of floating favelas and neon slums.

Here lives lowly factory worker Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell). Although he’s happily married to the smart, beautiful medic Lori (Kate Beckinsale), he’s weary of his daily routine. His work entails a long commute on a gigantic elevator called The Fall, which takes hundreds of minions from the Colony to robot-building factories on the other side of the planet.

Against the advice of his best friend Harry (Bokeem Woodbine), Quaid pays a visit to Rekall, a company specialising in planting false memories into the heads of its customers. But just as a slick-talking Rekall rep (played by Johnny Cho) prepares to inject the fantasy of a secret agent lifestyle into Quaid’s brain, a platoon of elite forces cuts the procedure short.

Quaid, it turns out, isn’t who he thinks he is. His life is an intricately constructed web of actors and false memories, and weeding out the real from the fake is a perilous exercise.

By removing some of the more fantastical elements of 1990's Total Recall - the Martian colonies, dormant alien technology, and so on - Len Wiseman brings the premise and atmosphere closer to sci-fi movies such as Minority Report or I, Robot, with glossy special effects to match.

What’s interesting about Total Recall, from a story standpoint, is how it streamlines the original’s plot, conflating some characters and leaving others out altogether. Lori, for example - played by Sharon Stone in Verhoeven’s version - plays a far more pivotal role this time round. And she’s quite impressive; physically imposing, cunning, and utterly single-minded, she makes a great counterpoint to Farrell’s version of Quaid. Only the script lets her down, saddling her with a single mild expletive to utter as her mark runs away for the umpteenth time. 

No longer the hulking action star depicted by Schwarzenegger, the new incarnation of Quaid is far closer to the ordinary everyman of Philip K Dick’s stories. Quaid’s still not the meek office worker of We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, but neither is he the brutally powerful man of action seen in the 1990 film. Instead, he’s a stealthy, resourceful protagonist who’s fighting for survival rather than crushing all before him in a shower of blood and broken glass.

Jessica Biel fights alongside him as Melina, the tough resistance fighter played by Rachel Ticotin in Paul Verhoeven’s film. She’s convincing enough in Total Recall’s numerous action scenes, but it has to be said that there’s a notable lack of romantic sparkle between her character and Farrell’s.

Although lacking charisma in the acting department, Total Recall's production design is sometimes stunning. Patrick Tatopoulos has clearly drawn on such genre touchstones as Blade Runner and the previously mentioned Minority Report (the latter, ironically, was originally optioned as a sequel to Total Recall in the early 90s), but there’s a level of detail here that’s breathtaking, even if the floating cars and drizzle-soaked cities look strangely familiar. 

The Fall, a magic elevator that travels past the Earth’s core, is an engaging idea, and one of the few major new additions to the story. But everything, from the telephones lurking beneath the flesh of hands, to the magnetic cars, is considered and believably functional - whatever your thoughts are about the merits of yet another Hollywood remake, this aspect alone gives Total Recall 2012 something of a reason to exist.

There are a few nods to the original for those old enough to remember the first film, including a three-breasted lady and a clever recycling of the old “two weeks” line, but this is a movie, we suspect, largely aimed at those too young to have seen the original. 

Many of the twists and events are similar to the 1990 film, leaving those well versed in it waiting for the story beats to happen, and after an intriguing first half, the movie degenerates into a series of action set-pieces in the second – a problem also evident in Wiseman’s Die Hard 4.0. Bryan Cranston is handed a wig and a sorely underwritten role as the head bad guy, and Bill Nighy’s appearance is little more than a disappointing cameo.

In the final analysis, though, this total remake is far better than some had predicted. It lacks, unsurprisingly, the trashy flair and sense of mischief that made Paul Verhoeven’s movie such an absurd masterpiece, and the new version’s muted PG-13 action sequences can’t match the original’s crunchy violence. But as a diverting piece of eye candy, it’s just about worth the price of admission.

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Verhoven's original still stands. Another forgettable remake. Maybe they'll get it right when they try and remake it again in five years time? Won't have long to wait. We should also have a Spider-man reboot, and a Transformers reboot to look forward to by then. Keep up the good work Hollywood!

The United Federation of Britain? Good to see we are still punching above our weight in the dystopian despot controlled future then!

Anyone else notice the story is about white brittish people (ok white robotic cops) invading Australia.

You don't happen to be one of those damned colonials do you? ;)

With an Irish actor in the lead.

So the question is - did someone write a similar script to Total Recall and then some execs thought to adapt it so it was titled under the same franchise - and would it get the same attention if it was it's own vehicle

But as a diverting piece of eye candy, it’s just about worth the price of admission."

Such reviews encourage the execs to make more flashy, empty quick-buck stupid CGI fests. Bad, bad review.

So Farrell's character is a factory? (see third paragraph). Surely that's a test even for his acting abilities!

I suspect the script writers decided on this so Americans didn't feel bad about possibly becoming an evil empire in the future.

Len also decided to add an inhumane number of lens flares. Normally this doesn't bother me but there were times in this movie where they are standing in a dark room with no windows and you still get the flare. Clearly someone was watching Super 8 before editing.

Sounds like one to pick up on DVD for £7 in a few months...

I saw the original on its initial release, and I was unimpressed. I love Philip K Dick's novels and short stories. For me, the first film is totally lacking in the area of set design and casting.

So, Colin's character is a "lowly factory"? Hmmmm, what a strange role for him to chose.

One of the worst movies I've seen this year. Nothing about this movie is memorable or thought out, and Bill Nighy is completely wasted in his role. Kate Beckinsale looks good in underwear. That's about it.

Now explain why it's a flop. It cost $125 million and it has made $55 million. Let me explain: it uses special effects and glossy visuals to cover a pedestrian script. Get moving, morons. Move, move, move. Kate Beckinsale's character should have been killed on page 17. Move, move, move.

I think the Total Recall reboot has problems, but I did think the sheer look of it on a huge screen was excellent.

The fact that the world actually felt like it worked, that they've bothered to make it so detailed, is, I'd argue, something of merit. The first half of the film for me was good, solid sci-fi cinema. It falls apart horribly for the second, but I'm really glad I got to see the opening hour on a big screen.

Had my doubts, gave it a chance... and it was awful. The only good thing about it was the way the future technology was nicely incorporated - the steering wheel that slid from one seat to the other to switch drivers, for example. But the script was staggeringly, clunkingly awful. The sheer number of times which Colin Farrell seemed to be lumbered with asking "Are you ok?" or the pointless conversation with Bill NIghy's character that seemed to be the scriptwriter's Big Meaningful Conversation moment... there was a lot of money thrown at this movie, wouldn't it be nice if some of it had been spent on a decent script?

Kate Beckinsale looks good in underwear..that's the price of admission right there.

Ok, with that I can agree, however I am really afraid of incoming uninspired reboot wave, especially the new Robocop, having heard the script rumors and director's problems in production.

I can see akind of trend here - 80s and 90s movies reboots being treated as early superhero films - like Fantastic 4 or Daredevil. Soulless moneymakers for the viewers not aquinted with originals.

Uninspired reboots? Share your concerns. Don't think that makes it a bad review, though.

When a reviewer walks into a screening, they have to approach the film as cold as possible. I've got no urge to rewatch the new Total Recall, and would have preferred with an original sci-fi movie instead. But I do agree with this review, on the whole.

Umm, except that's not true is it? $55 Million is the US total only. Add in the 'foreign' markets and Total Recall currently stands around $135 million so it's made the production cost back. It's still got several markets where it's only just been released or isn't out yet (UK, Ireland, Portugal, Finland, Poland, Greece, Spain and Italy). Figure by the time it's done it'll be in the black or damn close to it with DVD / Blu Ray sales still to go. Won't be setting any records but it'll be okay.

What a piece of boring garbage.It was boring. The production design was stolen from Blade Runner ( not very imaginative) The Chase scene over the roofs ( Matrix II ) The Robot army from I Robot...Skinny girls in underwear aren't exactly a substitute for a story. The Original was memorable, new and fresh and compared to this bland blender food of lukewarm reheated scenes of other films still lightyears ahead;.

Yup. But then again, I have the Internet, soooo...

I dunno - I'd love to see a "good" Fantastic 4 movie. The ones they put out were, in my humble beige-collar opinion, rubbish.


I thought this was pretty awful. The script was poor almost beyond belief. The number of times the female characters muttered "S**t" when things didn't go there way was laughable. There was a distinct lack of depth to any of the characters and the acting was mediocre through broad patches of the film. Why did Bill Nighy struggle along (admittedly briefly) with a dodgy American accent? This was entirely unnecessary. Brian Cranston didn't feature nearly enough. Colin Farrell made the best of a bad situation and fitted the role well. Overall, I just struggled to connect, to care. I love the original and perhaps that has clouded my judgement, but ultimately I found this boring!

true enough. wonder if they have a pause button for movie theatres. wouldn't it be great to pause Kate Beckinsale wearing underwear or less on a giant movie screen?

I used to think the original was a bit rubbish but after wasting £10 on this turkey I've revised my opinion.

It's an ironic twist that in the UFB all the bad guys speak with an American accent!

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