By Tim Posada, 8/09/2012
The hard truth is the 1990 “Total Recall” film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger was far from amazing. Its director, Paul Verhoeven, always seemed to have more to offer technically — favoring graphic voyeurism — than plotline or dynamic characters, and the whole mutant aspect of the storyline made for one odd experience that probably ostracized a hefty handful of potential sci-fi enthusiasts.
All this makes “Recall” the perfect candidate for a remake. Enter Len Wiseman, creator and director of the first two “Underworld” films (and the ludicrously entertaining “Live Free or Die Hard”), ready to turn this psychological thriller into something a bit more mindless and humbly successful.
To the film’s benefit, the Mars storyline in the original film disappears, making way for a completely dystopian Earth where the “haves” live in the United Federation of Britain (UFB) and the “have-nots” live in the slums of The Colony, located where Australia once was (anybody getting a weird British colonial history vibe yet?).
Colonialist Douglas (Colin Farrell) lives a simple life on the assembly line of the UFB’s robotic police force, protecting the good citizens of the world from colonial resistance fighters led by Matthias (Bill Nighy). But poor Dougy remains discontented with blue-collar life, even though he landed the gorgeous Lori (Kate Beckinsale), so he makes his way into the slums of the slums where three-breasted prostitutes and dubstep-nightlife pave the way to Rekall, a company specializing in memory implantation.
Whatever fantasy you want, they can “recall” it. But before the memory doesn’t take (or does it…), Doug begins to remember fragments of a former life where he’s a combat specialist, goes by the name Hauser and fell in love with fellow resistance fighter Malina (Jessica Biel). But what about his current wife, Lori? Out-Sharon Stoning Sharon Stone (from the 1990 “Total Recall”), Beckinsale proves to be a wolf in domesticated clothing.
Both “Total Recalls” are based on a short story, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”, by sci-fi bigwig Philip K. Dick, the man behind “Blade Runner”, “Minority Report” and a substantial handful of films that never quite did the man’s stories justice. The latest “Recall” hardly does the late Dick justice, greatly downplaying the illusionist dilemma of our reality-confused hero. On the bright side, special effects can finally keep up with this author’s grand visions of the future and society’s post-human desires.
Wiseman deserves both a big tip of the hat and wag of the finger for the visual spectacle that is his futuristic land and skyscape. The UFB has the clean and bright feel of an ideal metropolitan city, while The Colony is but an update of the L.A. depicted in “Blade Runner” back in 1982. A mix between a techno-Tokyo and Indian slums, we’ve got a cluttered cityscape that any anime viewer is all too familiar with.
Let’s get to the main reason anyone would watch this film. The action scenes, coupled with top-notch special effects, make “Recall” a much more memorable spectacle than most sci-fi films that premiere each year (though this summer has proven a bit of an exception with several much bigger hits). For my money, “I, Robot” has a far better balance of futurism, action and intrigue, but “Recall” is far from wasted space, especially if you just want to take off your thinking caps.
While Farrell does his best to pave the way as our leading man, he’s completely overshadowed by the film’s villains, Beckinsale as Lori and Bryan Cranston as Chancellor Cohaagen, the dictator (eh hem), I mean president of the UFB. Beckinsale takes on the role of Lori and her boyfriend, Chief Lieutenant Richter (Michael Ironside), from the original film. She needs no man to take orders from as she becomes both temptress and vicious predator. But unlike the classic James Bond villainess Stone portrays opposite Schwarzenegger, when Lori transforms into a malicious operative, it turns out she has little use for sex or seduction when big guns and martial arts are so much more feminine.
As for Cranston, his role on AMC’s “Breaking Bad” continually proves that his days as the quirky father on “Malcolm in the Middle” are worth forgetting, and his performance here, even in such a trivial way, is further proof that this actor needs more face time on the big screen.
A former roommate of mine had a kitchen apron that read, “Don’t expect miracles.” I find this a rather beneficial methodology when determining what to do with a film like “Total Recall”. It’s viscerally enjoyable if completely forgettable –– an adept work void of wit, charm and complexity.