When it comes to classic genre films, fans can be less than enthusiastic about the idea of a remake. With ostensibly a more faithful interpretation of Philip K. Dick’s 1966 short story “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” than the 1990 original starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, the new “Total Recall” has many of the same basic plot points, but veers into new territory with a subplot and story-arcs all its own.
Going in, my question was whether this new retelling — directed by Len Wiseman and starring Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston and Bokeem Woodbine – could possibly live up to the cult status and the cheesy awesomeness of the original. Or would the new CGI-laden film be too similar to break any new ground?
In the distant future of 2084, the world has changed due to the effects of chemical warfare. There are only two inhabitable areas left on earth: the United Federation of Britain, a high-rise, densely-populated metropolis for the upper class; and the Colony, a jam-packed area with slums built on top of slums, the epitome of working class average Joes. The areas are located on opposite sides of the globe and the only method of transportation is a device called “The Fall,” which transports commuters right through the center of the Earth to the other side.
One of those commuters is Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), a factory worker who seems unhappy with his life even though he has a gorgeous wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale), and a great best friend (Bokeem Woodbine). With dreams of action-packed adventures, he decides to visit Rekall, a company which injects you with memories of any fantasy you choose, but when the process goes awry and many are left dead at the hands of the mild-mannered Quaid, he knows something is wrong.
Lori tries to comfort the shaken Quaid, but quickly reveals her true colors when she tells him the truth about their marriage. The truth is that she is a government agent assigned to watch him after his mind was replaced with a different set of memories. Now on the run from his wife and a battalion of officers and robots soldiers, he must race to find out why he is so important.
It is quickly revealed that a government official named Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) isn’t trying to stop terrorist attacks but crush a rebel resistance that has sprung up after his plans of dominating and controlling both colonies was made apparent. With Quaid learning of his dual identities, and that he has worked as a double agent, he has no idea who to trust. When Melina (Jessica Biel) — the woman he dreamt of — appears and claims they were partners in the resistance, he must choose who to trust and who the true enemy is if he is to have any chance in stopping the slaughter of millions of innocent civilians.
While the two films are very closely related, I am thankful that it is not a straight beat-for-beat remake. Many of the plots and major points of the film are extremely similar, but in the remake we don’t go to Mars, there are no mutants, and the motives behind the villains seem to be different. That’s not to say that there aren’t a ton of nods and small inside jokes leading fans of the original to reminisce back to when they first saw the film. The biggest difference between the two films would have to be tone of the film and the advancement of special effects and C.G. graphics used to create the future world.
Although the 1990 original did win an Oscar for “Best Visual Effects,” its now-dated look doesn’t compare to the slick, fast-paced world created in this new film. In fact, one of my favorite parts of the film was the look and feel of this world; dark, wet and dingy it is exactly what you would imagine it should be. With motifs and sequences ranging from rooftop chases to hovercraft races and beyond, you feel like you’re watching the original mashed up with “Blade Runner,” “I, Robot” and “Tron: Legacy.”
Colin Farrell oozes as much charisma and swagger as any other leading man, and his pairing with two beautiful women to play off in “Total Recall” benefits from it. Admittedly, I will say that Jessica Biel’s character Melina felt a little bit one-dimensional to me and I found watching Kate Beckinsale in all her evil glory much more entrancing. Never really seeing her be the villain, I was fascinated by her character and even though you want someone to kick her in the face, most of the movie you still love her. Much of the comedic roles were reduced, and many characters seen in the original seem to be missing from this new story, but upon further inspection you can see how many characters are a combination of multiple past roles that sped up the journey with less side dialogue.
The action was intense and I love how director Len Wiseman has a knack for doing the majority of what he can practically and making it feel more grounded over pure green screen work. The two scenes that stood out to me were the hover car chase sequence and an elevator maze chase that climaxed in a close-quarters showdown with some intense combat between the two leading ladies. Having said that, I felt that while the film as a whole was fun it lacked the emotional connection to the characters and their plight, also with the immensity of some of the special effects and grand scale of the world we travel through, I found the movie as a whole lacking the depth and grandeur that I should have felt.
Basic breakdown: The movie is a fun ride through a familiar concept, that although changes have been made you still get the same story but with a very different feel to it. Wiseman is getting better at staging large scale action, but the film’s more serious tone makes it harder to take serious when it hits some over-the-top action sequences. While this sampling may bring you back to a world we’ve become accustomed to, its well-crafted sci-fi roots don’t seem to take hold of you as much as they should have. It makes for a fun night at the movies, but don’t expect to be blown away.
“Total Recall,” which also stars Bill Nighy, John Cho and Mishael Morgan, is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, brief sexual content and language and is infiltrating your local theater now.
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