Total Recall

Director: Len Wiseman
Starring: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biehn
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Runtime: 118 mins. Reviewed in Sep 2012
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Action violence, coarse language and nudity

A remake of the 1990 science-fiction film with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone, directed by Paul Verhoeven. Time has enhanced the memory of the original and, with the huge outburst against this new version, it has acquired pedestal-classic status. This raises a perennial question: should movies be remade? More often than not, they don’t measure up to the original (or memories of the experience of the original which may not have been seen for some time). But, sometimes they do.

This review is happy to go out on a critical limb and praise Total Recall, 2012. In 1990 , the about-to-be governor of California was basically a bodybuilt action star with a heavy accent and delivery. Sharon Stone was just another actress – Basic Instinct came after this. Maybe, audiences read back their later iconic status into the film. It was directed by Dutchman Paul Verhoeven who had made Robocop and was to direct Basic Instinct.

The point. Colin Farrell is an actor, handsome but ordinary-looking. This means that this version is meant to offer a hero who is bewildered, manipulated, tormented by nightmares, laboring in a humdrum factory job, seeking his true identity and prepared to go to the company, Rekall, to be injected with new memories. Audiences can identify with Farrell. His wife is played by Kate Beckinsale who turns into a relentless pursuer of her husband, a fighter bent on vengeance. And, whatever her limitations, Beckinsale can act more persuasivley than Sharon Stone could in 1990. Perhaps modern audiences compare them as unfavourably ordinary compared with the larger than life protagonists of the original.

There is Jessica Biel as the mysterious rebel from The Colony. This time, there are two habitable parts of earth after chemical warfare in the 21st century, the United Federation of Britain and The Colony (as the map shows it: Australia) rather than Mars in the original. Bryan Cranston is the ruler of the Federation with malign intent on the Colony. Bill Nighy appears briefly (with an American accent) as Matthias, leader of the Revolution.

One of the most striking features of this Total Recall, and one reason for seeing the film, is the production design. The futuristic sets, intricate with great detail and huge in scope, are outstanding. The dark colony, very much like a crowded Chinese waterfront, reminds us of the design of Blade Runner. The Federation is much more London-like. But, it means that whatever is happening in the action, there is always something to look at, amazing sets.

We Can Remember it for you Wholesale is the Philip K. Dick short story on which the film is based. It ties in with the identity themes and control from his Blade Runner and Paycheck.

Maybe Paul Verhoeven and the original script had more tongue-in-cheek than this version which plays everything quite straightforwardly. As a straightforward version, with an effective lead who has to transform from meek worker to double agent and huge heroics, always good to look at, this Total Recall is gripping in its action and in its questions (though laziness in the screenplay often substitutes quick expletives for genuine emotions of fear and frustration).

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