“You don’t have the most reliable of memories do you?”
-Chancellor Vilos Cohaagen
We live in an era where Hollywood is striving to find almost any brand it can find in young adult novels, toys, more recently board games, and old movies to ensure a built in audience. Total Recall is a remake of Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s 1990’s campy sci-fi action movie. The orginal is beloved by some as a fun action movie that takes a neat idea(concieved by the brilliant sci-fi writer Phillip K. Dick) and puts the classic Arnold fun into the mix. This remake goes back to the original and plans to take a more serious take on the same concept and brings Len Wiseman of Underworld fame to direct. Can this remake do enough to make itself relevant or is this just studious trying to cash in on the Total Recall brand?
Total Recall begins by introducing us to a world set in 2084 that has been nearly completely destroyed by chemical warfare. There are only two inhabitable nations left with the wealthy living in the United Federation of Britain and the poor living in “The Colony”(which is essentially Australia). The story begins when Douglas Quaid(Colin Farrell) wakes from a dream in which he is running from the police. When he wakes he lives a normal life at a factory and has a wife(Kate Beckinsale) and a buddy from work(Bokeem Woodbine) who are trying to help him overcome his recurring dream. After seeing many advertisements for a company named Rekall who claim they can implant memories of a better life into their users minds, Douglas decides to go to give it a try to cover up his bad dreams. The man working at Rekall(John Cho) promises to give Quaid some exciting memories as a secret agent. As Quaid is about to go through the process, soldiers burst into the room and want to arrest him. Quaid goes on the run to attempt to find out why people are after him and begins to discover just who he really is.
Despite a few subplot omissions, the plot is pretty similar to the original. I’m going to do my best not to compare this to the original because this movie appears to be aiming for something different with its slightly edgier and more serious tone. The plot of this movie is a mess. Aside from the fact that there are holes left and right; the movie attempts to implement many ideas that are never even close to realized. The most obvious of these ideas is the separation of economic classes with the rich living one place and the poor the other(I found it funny that Europe was the rich and Australia was the poor). This idea is clearly there as it is set up in the first 10 minutes of the movie, but I never felt that the dynamic they were setting up really ever did anything. The rich and poor were never at odds with each other and this idea of European supremacy really never blossoms. There are several other ideas such as the idea of false realities, government experimentation, and rebellion that really never do much other than exist within the movie. The story also suffers from some very repetitive scenarios that make the well choreographed action scenes feel less exciting by the time you see the exact same type of fighting for the eighth time. The plot in this movie never really develops as it should with the big threat of an invasion never feeling real which keeps the stakes of the movie from feeling remotely high. By the time the movie moved to its climax I was left wondering why I was supposed to feel like the invasion even mattered. I know this movie was going for style over substance, but big action set pieces and well choreographed fights need to feel like they have some sort of reason to exist, and this movie fails to develop any of these things enough to give the style legs to stand on.
This movie actually has a fairly talented cast with Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel,Bryan Cranston,Bill Nighy, and Bokeem Woodbine. Sadly this talent is mostly wasted. Nearly every character in this film is a one note character with even Quaid being less than interesting. Jessical Biel literally exists as a one dimensional girlfriend who literally does one meaningful thing in the film, the excellent Bryan Cranston plays an incredibly shallow “mastermind” villain who hardly has any screen time, Bill Nighly is the leader of the rebels who is in the movie for literally 5 minutes and exists just to relay a generic idea to Quaid, and John Cho is actually great for the one scene he is in. The only character who had any amount of depth(or even explained motive) was Kate Beckinsale’s Lori. She was essentially the chancellor’s foot solider who did all the dirty work. At least with her character there was a point where she relayed why she wanted to take down Quaid so badly. While this movie isn’t striving to be a great character movie it is trying to play things seriously which makes these lack of character motives or even actual character more noticeable and by extension inexcusable.
Director Len Wiseman proves yet again that he is only as strong as his script. He has delivered two alright Underworld movies and a really solid sequel to the classic action movie Died Hard. He proves yet again that he can make a movie that is successful visually, but his inability to give any of his movies real character of their own is really beginning to show. The biggest problem with this movie is a very weak script that feels characterless and hollow. As I mentioned there are holes in the story as well as lots of characters and ideas are never actually realized. Wiseman’s directiondoes not help this fact at all. Wiseman still delivers on some cool(if very repetitive) action sequences and some really solid visuals that almost(but not quite) immersed me into the movie. The direction for this movie is decent at best, but ultimately Wiseman is not the type of director who can put a unique enough spin on a weak script to make it something different.
Overall Total Recall is a movie plagued with a script with some cool ideas that are never realized or developed, characters that fail to do anything remotely memorable or interesting, and a direction that delivers visually but fails to bring this mess together. The movie is solid visually and has some pretty cool action set pieces that eventually begin to repeat by the time the film is over. The really solid cast is almost completely wasted by poorly written characters and a plot that never develops enough to have any stakes. The original movie may have had similar issues, but the difference is that 1990’s Total Recall realized its weaknesses and played off of them to make the movie a very fun if cheesy sci-fi action movie. This remake at least attempted to take a new direction by making the film serious, but in the process lost the humor which was the heart and soul of the original film which leads this film to feeling very hollow. I’d recommend this movie to someone who wants to go to the movies and has already exhausted their other options. This is a movie that will play really well 3 years from now on TV on a Sunday afternoon.
Total Recall has some really cool ideas, but unfortunately never really takes advantage of any of them. The script for this movie is incredibly weak as the story has plot holes left and right and is not well paced. The story never really develops which leads to a climax that feels completely unsupported. In the end the story is hollow and lacks anything remotely memorable.
This movie has a modestly talented cast, but the characters themselves are completely one-dimensional with even the lead character feeling….well characterless. The script for this movie completely fails to make any of these characters interesting or remotely believable. Kate Beckinsale plays what is probably the most developed character fairly well. The characters feel much like the story: hollow
Len Wiseman delivers a visually solid movie filled with action sequences that are at times fun and well choreographed. Unfortunately these action set pieces get very repetitive and by the time the movie hits a climax the movie had stopped holding my interest. Wiseman does not do much to shake up the really weak script for this movie which unfortunately is the ultimate downfall of the movie.
Overall Effectiveness of the Film: 3.5
My expectations for this film were incredibly low and this film did not really do anything to convince me that I was wrong. This movie plays things very straight which would have been cool had the script been stronger, but the weak script and lack of self aware humor and ridiculousness of the original make this movie a failed exploit. There was some enjoyable action, but there is a far better and more entertaining version of this movie that is available at your local video store.In the end this is a movie marching to the same beat as the original, but is failing to play the new tune it claims to be.
Overall Score: 3.0