Total Recall

Directed by: Len Wiseman

Producers:  Toby Jaffe, Ric Kidney, Neal H. Moritz

Screenplay by: Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback


Colin Farrell as Douglas Quaid/Hauser

Kate Beckinsale as Lori Quaid

Jessica Biel as Melina

Bryan Cranston as Cohaagen

Bill Nighy as Matthias

Forget everything I’ve written up to this point in this review.  The real star of the movie is:

Kriss Super V .45 ACP Submachine Gun

the Kriss Super V submachine gun in .45 ACP caliber.  I’m not kidding.  It gets as much, if not more screen time than Farrell, Beckinsale and Biel and speaks more clearly and eloquently than all of them put together.  Unfortunately, no matter how many of them are shooting at Farrel and Biel at one time—and there are many indeed—they can’t hit a thing, precisely like the script of this remake.

After seeing the remake, I had to review the original 1990 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as Quaid/Hauser, Sharon Stone as Lori Quaid and Rachel Ticotin as Melina.  There is no question: remakes seldom live up to and virtually never improve upon original films and the newest iteration of Total Recall is no exception.

The new film retains many of the familiar elements of the old film, such as names and the reality versus implanted memory plot device, but ultimately fails in many ways, the largest of which is it never resolves the reality confusion.  In the 1990 film, once Schwarzeneger/Quaid resolved that dilemma, he was free to do unto the bad guys with joyful, tongue-in-cheek abandon, but Farrell/Quaid remains eternally conflicted, always holding back, and acting only at the last second and half-heartedly.

The look of the new film is strongly reminiscent of Blade Runner, and is almost always dark, misty or raining and oppressive.  The opening premise is equally unclear: after global chemical warfare, most of the world is uninhabitable with the exception of Australia and the British Isles.  Well of course!  Why wouldn’t those two islands be immune to global chemical devastation?  Apparently everyone living in England commutes to work in Australia via “The Fall,” which is essentially a skyscraper sized subway car, which as it nears the end of its travel either way, somehow suspends gravity, which appears to have been added to the script primarily as a means of allowing Farrell and Biel to miraculously escape the bad guys near the end of the film using the real star of the film.  Think of The Fall as a sort of really huge pneumatic tube system like you find in a bank drive up.

Coaagen, the main bad guy, wants to use the human-like robots Quaid helps to build in his mindless factory job (wouldn’t they use robots to build robots?) to kill everyone in Australia so he can do something bad and evil, and Quaid and Melina have to destroy The Fall carrying all the robots and bad guys and save the world—or something like that.

While the level of special effects and props is more up to date in the 2012 film—the 1990 film uses cathode ray tube TV displays rather than flat panel displays—the 1990 film focuses on fast moving action held together by a logical and believable plot.  Not so in the remake.  There is plenty of action, but much of it seemingly random and having little logical continuity.

Early in the 2012 film when Farrell visits ReKall and his actual spy persona is discovered, the bad guys/federal police immediately burst in shooting—for no apparent reason–and kill everybody except Farrell who reacts spontaneously and kills all of them.  But he does it reluctantly and with a sense of hesitation and moral confusion, a state of affairs that will continue throughout the film.  Repeatedly throughout the movie, other characters ask Farrell if he is actually mentally present, as he maintains what he and the director apparently thought was a look of profound internal conflict.  To the viewer, it looks like he’s recently had a concussion from which he has yet to recover.  This is his more or less continual emotional state.

There are also elements of The Matrix present as Farrell is touted as a sort of messianic Neo-like character.  However, unlike Schwarzenegger, Farrell never remotely embraces his supposed superhuman abilities and uses them in a direct, effective manner. This wishy-washiness leads to a series of bare escapes and mere survival rather than triumphant victory.

Kate Beckinsale, one of the more lovely and interesting women in the movies today, who also happens to be the wife of the director, is misused in this film.  She plays a snarling, frowning, evil bitch who inexorably attacks Farrell over and over and over and over until he finally kills her—just barely–with seconds to spare before the final credits.  Her role is something of a reprise of her role as the vampire “death-dealer” Selene in the inventive and visually interesting Underworld series of films.  In those films, however, her character is intense, sexy and compelling.  In Total Recall, she essentially plays two roles: Quaid’s fake wife and the Michael Ironside character from the original film—there is no such character in the 2012 movie—and as a result has no depth, only the kinetic momentum of an actor trying to hit a mark, deliver a kick, a punch, a snarl, shoot somebody and then on to the next mark.

Bryan Cranston as Cohaagen is appropriately scheming and evil, but also the physical equal of Farrell, who is supposed to be a super-spy capable of killing legions of armed baddies single-handed.  His ultimate end isn’t nearly as graphic and satisfying as the end of the 1990 Cohaagen, and his screen time is mercifully brief.

A very strange role is that of Bill Nighy as Matthias, the leader of the resistance.  In the 1990 film, the resistance leader, Quato, is a mutated psychic, a truly mystical figure that helps Quaid to understand the truth that will transform Mars and the solar system, and which reveals to Quaid what he must do to fulfill his destiny.  There is no such character and no similar mystical elements in the 2012 film, but the film tries to pretend there are.

Nighy, who played the vampire elder Victor in Underworld Evolution plays Matthias as though he is drugged, looking old, pale, speaking haltingly and spouting pseudo-Hollywood mystical advice, urging Farrell to find the answers he seeks in his heart.  I almost expected him to tell Farrell to click the heels of his ruby slippers together three times.  He does not in any way resemble a dynamic leader trying to transform the world, and he gives Farrell no motivation or insight.  Mercifully, Cohaagen kills him within minutes of his first appearance on the screen after complimenting him as a very important man, which importance isn’t the least bit obvious to the viewer.

Jessica Biel is—Jessica Biel.  She’s always attractive, but wasted in this movie.  Her dialogue—virtually everyone’s dialogue—is brief and delivered in a flat and unconvincing manner.  Somehow, Wiseman managed to make her look dowdy and unappealing.  She does not for a moment live up to Rachel Ticotin’s dark good looks and easily engaging sex appeal in the 1990 film.

Wiseman makes a number of predictable choices common to the action/sci-fi film genre.  The post-apocalyptic, crowded urban landscape, the misty, rainy, dark setting, the hundreds of machine gun firing bad guys dressed like Star Wars storm troopers who can’t hit the broad side of a Death Star, and most annoyingly, the handheld, shaky and constantly moving camera work in a number of the fight scenes, which leaves viewers with a blurred impression rather than an understanding of the action.  The Hollywood elite might consider all of this cutting edge technique, but most audiences merely find it annoying and very much done before and done to death.

The scene that most annoyed me was when Farrell’s friend from work—in a scene paralleling that in the 1990 film—was “sent in” to try to talk him back to reality.  In the 1990 film, Schwarzenegger realized it was a lie when the character trying to talk him back started sweating.  In 2012, Farrell can’t seem to figure out that his pal is a liar despite the fact that he’s wearing a bullet proof vest, which is not something one might need while existing in a hallucination.

Rather than wasting five dollars on this film in the remainder bin at WalMart in a few months, it would be much more satisfying to buy the original Schwarzenegger film.  It’s far more entertaining and original and despite a few of the dated props, holds up very well. Perhaps the only happy consequence of the remake is that sales of the Kriss in its semiautomatic version will almost certainly increase.  Annoying anti-gun types is always a worthy accomplishment; the remake of Total Recall, sadly, is not.