Total Recall (**)

I’m hardly someone who puts the original ‘Total Recall’ from 1990 up on a pedestal or considers it to be a classic (a cult classic maybe), though compared to the new remake that’s hitting theaters this Friday, it comes close. 2012’s edition of ‘Total Recall’ is completely uninspired and manages to commit a cardinal sin when it comes to remaking movies…it manages to make all the changes to the original changes for the worse. Worse still, the remake then decides to follow the same yet now watered down plot. Paul Verhoeven’s original had its tongue firmly planted in cheek and dove into excess at every turn, but Len Wiseman’s new take just goes through the motions. There’s no humor, no sense of fun, and no Mars. Wiseman actually doesn’t do anything especially terrible behind the camera, but the script by Mark Bomback and Kurt Wimmer is pretty sub par, so the trend of Wiseman working with less than ideal screenplays continue. Colin Farrell is adequate in the lead role, but he’s about as far from Arnold Schwarzenegger as it gets. Every which way that you turn, there’s something mediocre or even disappointing to feast your eyes on. Perhaps the only thing the flick succeeds at is showing off some strong visuals, but that’s a hollow victory for the film. Consider this Early Review a warning…

The plot pretty much follows that of the original. It’s still centered around average guy Douglas Quaid (Farrell), a lowly grunt worker unsatisfied with his life. Here, he lives in one of the only two inhabitable lands on Earth after a chemical warfare-filled war (Australia serves as the poor “Colony” for the have-nots, while the UK is where the haves live), traveling to work on a giant elevator through the Earth’s core. He has a beautiful wife named Lori (Kate Beckinsale), but he keeps dreaming of a woman (Jessica Biel) and an adventure that only serves to dissatisfy himself more with his day-to-day existence. A chance for something new presents itself in the Rekall company, an organization that can implant memories into your brain for a price. Quaid decides to go in and pay to be given the memory of being a secret agent. The thing is, it turns out he’s already an undercover spy who’s had his memory erased. This leads to him going on the run from the soldiers of Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), who are hot after him in their quest to beat back the rebellion led by Matthias (Bill Nighy). Assisting him is the woman from his dreams, while Lori is on the hunt for him. Nothing is as it seems though, and is it possible that all of this is in Quaid’s head? The answer to that isn’t the same as in the 1990 version of the flick, but it’s not an improvement.

I have no complaints about the acting in the film, but no one here is trying especially hard to impress, so my praise can hardly be effusive. Colin Farrell looks the part of an action hero, but he mostly just runs around and scowls a lot…hardly an award-winning performance. Kate Beckinsale more or less does the same thing as she does in the ‘Underworld’ flicks, which is to say fight a lot and look good in tight clothing (considering she’s married to the director, that’s probably not an accident). Jessica Biel is given nothing to do, but she’s not terrible or anything. Bryan Cranston resists the urge to go over the top as the bad guy, but it comes at the cost of not making him memorable at all. That’s more than I can say for Bill Nighy though, as he’s completely wasted. Bokeem Woodbine and John Cho have small parts as well, but they’re not given much to do either. Go figure, I’ve finally found an example of Arnold Schwarzenegger being better suited to a role than someone else.

Len Wiseman isn’t exactly a popular director, but he wasn’t a bad choice to direct this project. He’s got a handle on the action scenes and paces the film adequately, plus the film always looks good. The thing is, there’s no personality here, and that’s something that Verhoeven’s take on things had in spades. The problem isn’t Wiseman, but rather the script. Mark Bomback and Kurt Wimmer took out all the fun, over the top humor, violence, and satire from the original and left us with a sci-fi action flick that’s too serious and too bland. It’s as if they didn’t actually want to make ‘Total Recall’ and just shoehorned a few references into a standard genre script and sold it. This remake was never exactly a good idea, but the execution leaves so much to be desired that it only exacerbates things.

In the end, this Early Review won’t likely keep too many of you from seeing the ‘Total Recall’ remake on Friday (and certainly won’t urge anyone to actually go see it), but I hope it’s properly prepared you for what’s going to be on display. Much like the ‘Star Wars’ prequels, there’s a lot of interesting visuals on display, but they’re in the service of a mostly below average product. If you’re a fan of the original, there’s not much to like about this one. If you weren’t a fan, then you probably have no interest. If you’re indifferent, then you’re in luck…as the filmmakers are indifferent too. Overall, you can do a lot better than this version of ‘Total Recall’ (particularly by just watching the original instead), and I hope that you do!

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!