I wish I could say that it’s nice to see director Len Wiseman finally come into his own, but two good films does not make a great director. While finally serviceable, I am happy to see Wiseman stepping away from his Underworld films. Without having done so, he never would have proved he really can do action with Live Free or Die Hard and now Total Recall. While a remake to the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic is completely unnecessary, it does manage to add a few things to the Paul Verhoeven version of Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” some 22 years ago. With that version hitting store shelves this week in a newly remastered, Verhoeven-approved transfer, it just makes the new version seem outdated already. Shine it up all you want, Colin Farrell may make for a great action star, but we all know there’s only one Schwarzenegger.
In Total Recall “v2,” chemical warfare has almost completely annihilated Earth. The only two inhabitable areas remaining are the United Federation of Britain and The Colony (i.e. Australia). Workers of the Colony travel by what is known as “The Fall” (an express elevator which travels through the Earth’s core) to work labor jobs in the UFB. Douglas Quaid (Farrell) wakes up screaming from nightmares involving strobe lights, techno music, gunfights, and a mystery woman (Jessica Biel). Waking up screaming or not, next to Lori (Kate Beckinsale, Mrs. Wiseman), Quaid feels like his dreams mean something, like he’s doing something important in them. Lori thinks maybe they’re his way of dealing with a seven-year itch even though they’ve been married for eight.
Quaid works in the UFB tightening bolts on robotic soldier for the Federation when he’s not hanging out at the bar with his supervisor and friend, Harry (Bokeem Woodbine). Quaid also spends his time waxing philosophically, questioning why they always sit in the same two seats on “The Fall” and how he wishes he had learned how to play the piano. Before you can say Rekall, Quaid finds himself in their office where Mac (John Cho) mentions that they can implant a spy memory which Quaid is all for. History repeats itself as an army of soldiers batten down the doors of Rekall to take him into custody, but not before he singlehandedly wipes everyone out. Now Quaid is on the run from the Federation and his wife (informing Quaid that his memory has in fact been replaced), who works for Cohaagen, the Federation’s oily dictator. Now Quaid has to figure out who he really is and save the Colony from an impending invasion of those pesky Storm Troopers, err, I mean robot soldiers.
Foot chases, flying bullets, swooping camera moves, and Beckinsale’s pantied-bum fly fast and furious for a breakneck 90 minutes. But then we get to the resistance leader Matthias (a completely wasted use of Bill Nighy) character where everything starts to quickly fall apart. Monolouging 101 here we come. Screenwriters Kurt Wimmer (he of Equilibrium, Ultraviolet, Law Abiding Citizen, and Salt fame) and Mark Bomback (Live Free or Die Hard and Unstoppable) are in the midst of a constant tonal tug of war and you can pinpoint exactly which parts of the finished product belongs to whom. One takes this adaptation of Dick’s short story way too seriously while the other knows viewers just want to have fun.
And while they do have some fun nods to the original, even using direct lines, they don’t even steal the best ones. A very particular line could have left the last scene as a huge payoff, instead of opting for the slo-mo fade out. By removing the original’s Mars setting involving Cohaagen’s plan to take the people’s air (I dare you to try reading that without hearing Schwarzenegger in your head), the new plot developments almost suck the air right out of this one. The good news is that Wiseman has come a long way in the world of filmmaking and keeps everything moving swiftly aside from the final 20 minutes, giving us some of the best action sequences seen all summer. Check your brain at the door for this new version of Total Recall. While I may still love the original, I thoroughly enjoyed a good 85% of the remake. At least I didn’t wind up hating it, which is always high praise in my book when it comes to anything remade in Hollywood.
Photos courtesy Columbia Pictures