First let’s answer the most important question about Total Recall. Yes, the dramatically well-endowed woman is in the remake, but this time she’s wearing clothes. Now that’s done, on to the review.
Total Recall is a remake of the 1990 film of the same name, originally starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The film is based on a book by Philip K Dick, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale; the author known for his mind-bending science fiction stories, which have been made into acclaimed films such as Blade Runner, A Scanner Darkly and Minority Report.
In the bleak future only the United Federation of Britain and The Colony remain. The Colony, a quaint play on the history of Australia’s formation, is at the centre of an underground rebellion against the British. Enter Douglas Quaid, a factory worker bored with life. I mean, he’s got a hot wife and makes robots all day. But in the future, it just isn’t enough for a man.
In order to get a more interesting life, he approaches Rekall, a memory simulation company. While being implanted with the memories of a spy, the process is interrupted and Quaid is faced with determining if what he is experiencing is a dream or reality.
I won’t compare the two films much, but the remake, while bringing a new level of special effects to the film, does not have the same relentless energy of the first. Nor does it play constant mind games about whether it is a dream or reality. They also don’t go to Mars.
Like many films this year, Total Recall is intriguing for the first half, with incredible set design and well paced action scenes. But these promising scenes in the first half make the second half more disappointing when it delves into a generic action thriller. The scenes could have been transplanted into any sub-par action movie and no one would know any different. The world building set up in the first half is all but forgotten.
The two highlights of the film are the concurrent rooftop chase scene, which evolves into an expansive hovercraft chase. London has changed greatly in the years after the apocalypse, with layer upon layer of buildings and magnetic hovercraft strips built into the sky. If only the film had continued in the creative vein of the first half, then we’d have an excellent remake.
The special effects and sets are the real stars of the film. There’s a large Oriental influence over the art direction, with Patrick Tatopoulos (Independence Day, I Robot, Stargate) on Production Design and Art Direction by Patrick Banister. The original Blade Runner style oozes from the world, with the red light district splattered with lanterns, bird cages and projected neon signs. The interior of the Rekall office is a high-tech Thai massage parlour. I can only imagine the hand phones have inspired new generations of tech designers. Unfortunately the actors are outshined by the artists and animators.
While a decent performer in Indie films, Colin Farrell flounders as a Hollywood action lead, with a perpetually surprised fish face. He doesn’t bring the charisma that a leading man should, partly due to his flat American accent (Farrell is Irish). Had this film be made with a charismatic action lead like Will Smith, the end result would have been very different. Kate Beckinsdale is convincing as the tough as nails wife come secret agent, taking on Sharon Stone’s role in the original film. Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston plays President Cohaagen, but the bureaucrat turned evil villain is less believable due to the incredulous scripting.
It seems bizarre to make a film where Australia (The Colony) is featured so heavily, but not to have a single Australian in a lead role. Or even a woefully attempted Aussie accent. If only Britain and the Aussies survive, why is nearly everyone American? Given Australia’s reputation as a post apocalyptic sanctuary (On the Beach, Mad Max), you’d think they’d consider some Aussies.
To Colin Farrell, get yourself back into Indie films and Irish accents. To the special effects guys, I’d hire you any day.