- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Columbia Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
he amount of remakes that Hollywood churns out each year isn’t as high as it used to be, but there’s still a disturbing lack of originality in theaters today. Nevertheless, some movies are actually worth remaking if there’s room for improvement, and although Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi cult classic “Total Recall” has its share of admirers, the film isn't exactly bulletproof. Director Len Wiseman's slick update doesn't have the same cult appeal, but fans of the 1990 original, as well as the Philip K. Dick short story on which it was based, should at least give it a chance. Though the new version doesn't concern itself as much with the typical Dickian questions about reality and identity, Wiseman fills that gap with better action and a darker, more serious approach to the material.
The year is 2084, and after most of Earth was rendered uninhabitable by chemical warfare, the planet has been divided into two sections: the United Federation of Britain and The Colony (aka Australia), which are connected by a transportation system through the Earth’s core. It’s how factory workers like Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) travel between home and work every day, although unlike the other drones that seem to be content with their less-than-lavish lives, Quaid wants something more. Rekall, a corporation that implants artificial memories into their clients’ minds, can offer Quaid the fantasy escape he desires, but the process goes awry when it’s discovered that he's actually a government agent who was so deep undercover not even he knew about it. Forced to go on the run after his phony wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) – an agent assigned to watch over Quaid – tries to kill him, he's reunited with a rebel fighter named Melina (Jessica Biel), who helps to unravel the secrets locked away in his mind to stop the UFB’s chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) from assuming military control over The Colony.
Much to my surprise, “Total Recall” shares a lot in common with Verhoeven's original movie, not only beginning in similar fashion, but also following many of the same beats along the way, with the exception of a drastically different third act. There are some slight departures here and there, especially in regards to the film's setting, but while it may not take place on Mars or feature any mutants, The Colony (which has been heavily influenced by the cyberpunk aesthetic of "Blade Runner") plays an almost identical role in the story, with its oppressed citizens trapped firmly under the thumb of Cohaagen, despite the continued efforts of the Resistance, who have been branded as terrorists.
Perhaps one of the biggest differences between the two versions is the character of Lori, whose role has been beefed up considerably, essentially combining the Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside characters into one villain, which provides Kate Beckinsale with a little more to chew on. Though it's not the first time that the actress has played a sexy and dangerous femme fatale (previously starring in the "Underworld" films for husband Len Wiseman), she completely embraces the chance to break bad for once. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of Bryan Cranston, who is criminally underused as the merciless Cohaagen, barely even showing his face until the final 30 minutes.
The rest of the cast doesn't fare much better. Though Colin Farrell makes for a more believable Everyman than Arnold Schwarzenegger, he lacks the charisma that the iconic action hero brought to the role, while Jessica Biel doesn't get a whole lot to do as Farrell's love interest/partner in crime. In fact, it's the actors in the smaller roles that are the most memorable, including John Cho as a Rekall rep and Bokeem Woodbine as Quaid's co-worker, who shines in what is arguably one of the best scenes in both films.
The scene in question comes midway through the movie, where it's suggested that none of what's happening to Quaid is real, but rather just part of the memory that Rekall has engineered. It's a pivotal moment in the story, but unlike the 1990 version, it fails to plant that kernel of uncertainty in the back of the audience's mind. Instead, the film just goes about its business skipping from one cool setpiece to the next, and although it's a fairly entertaining sci-fi action movie in that regard, you'd expect more from a remake of "Total Recall." Wiseman does his best to freshen things up, and in some cases, he actually improves upon the original, but you can never quite shake that feeling of déjà vu while watching the film, and that only begs the question, why bother remaking it at all?
Three-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Say what you will about the movie, but Sony has put together an impressive collection of bonus material for the Blu-ray release. Though the audio commentary with director Len Wiseman (only available on the director’s cut) is definitely worth checking out, the Insight Mode feature is the real highlight, offering pop-up trivia, interviews and behind-the-scenes footage that accompanies the film. Disc Two houses the rest of the extras, including a gag reel, an interview with physics professor Michio Kaku about the real-life possibilities of the technology seen in the movie (“Science Fiction or Science Fact”), a 20-minute featurette on shooting the action sequences with the cast, and much more.