Review: Total Recall (2012)

Directed by: Len Wiseman.

Starring: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine, Bill Nighy.

Rating:   Running Time: 118 mins.

After a world war at the end of the 21st century, living space is the most valuable commodity. Most of the surface of the Earth lies uninhabitable from attacks using chemical weapons that has left only two habitable territories – The United Federation of Britain (UFB), a region controlled by Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) and The Colony (formerly Australia), a kind of shanty town area where people live in basic housing including Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) and his wife Lori (Kate Bekinsale).

After growing more discontent with his life, Quaid takes a trip to Rekall, a company that can implant memories of whatever experience or fantasy you want, and after rejecting several ideas offered to him, chooses to have the memory of being a secret agent implanted, but when something goes wrong during the procedure Quaid finds himself battling security forces. Escaping, he encounters Melina (Jessica Biel), a woman who he’s never met but knows from a Dream, the question is, is it all real or a side effect of the procedure?

For anyone who isn’t already aware, Total Recall is a remake of a 1990 action movie directed by Paul Verhoven (Robocop – a movie which is also currently being remade) and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in the role of Douglas Quaid. The original is not only a movie that I know fairly well, it’s amongst my favourite action movies. When I first heard of it being remade I honestly began to wonder why. It’s stood the test of time and is still as good today as it was 22 years ago. Even when the first trailer came out, showing some impressive Blade Runner inspired footage which did gain my interest, I still had too much love for the original to get truly excited about this remake. Add to this the fact that the movie was being directed by Len Wiseman (Live Free Or Die Hard/Die Hard 4.0) and my expectations were further lowered.

No one is more surprised than me then, to find out that this Total Recall is neither the disaster or the disappointment that I was dreading, in fact it’s a decent, albeit average piece of science-fiction/action cinema. It’s competently directed, has a version of the Douglas Quaid character that the audience will more easily relate to, and overall is a fairly solid movie, albeit without that spark that director Paul Verhoven brought to the original. The movie looks amazing, the dystopian vistas being a good backdrop for the movie, and there’s been care taken to give the movie an interesting visual style with things like lens flares (heavily overused in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek a few years ago, here being used occasionally and with much more restraint).

Colin Farrell is perfectly fine in the lead role, he plays the part with a decent mixture of confusion when it comes to understanding what exactly is going on, but reacts to the situation with training that he’s clearly had yet doesn’t remember. Kate Bekinsale is perhaps the strongest performance in the role, if a little one dimensional once the pace picks up. Her character is a merging of two characters from the original, a move that for the most part works fairly well, and she more than holds her own in fight sequences between her and Farrell. Jessica Biel’s character of Melina though is considerably weak and underused, falling into the ‘once love interest’ role that’s been done to death before, it’s a thankless role and she brings nothing new of note to it.

Bryan Cranston is the most bewildering choice of head villain, playing the role that was played with much relish by Ronny Cox in the original, but playing someone who is supposed to be controlling the government in what is left of the United Kingdom, easily an opening for a British actor to be cast in the role for what could have been a great villain (a la Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber in the original Die Hard). Cranston is okay in the role, but I wish they had gone differently with that casting choice.

Another thing I wish they had done differently is the music, the score in this is functioning, but like the rest of the movie, is devoid of a soul. Harry Gregson-Williams score was sub-par for me, not only does it not come close to the classic score by Jerry Goldsmith on the original movie, but it’s extremely bland and lacking of theme even for a modern action movie.

Writers Kurt Wimmer (Equilibrium) and Mark Bomback (Unstoppable) have taken elements from the original movie and in some ways streamlined parts of it to provide a more action based movie, which as a result feels a little rushed and misses out a lot of the humour of the original, but on the plus side never slows down enough to let you think about some of the ludicrous things going on. Suspension of disbelief is required with a ridiculous macguffin in the form of a train system (known as The Fall) that allows people to travel between The UFB (oddly ran by an American – why not cast someone like Hugh Laurie?!) and The Colony in only 17 minutes via a tunnel that travels directly through the Earth’s core! If you can get past that though, then you won’t have any great difficulty with other aspects of the movie.

Anyone who knows the original movie will find a fair amount of things familiar here and will find several direct references throughout including one aspect that I suspect may earn the movie’s rating complaints from some – parents beware, the movie has been rated 12A by the BBFC but if you are considering taking anyone under the age of 12 to see this, have a look at the BBFC website information here as it is fairly violent and does contain a brief topless scene when Quaid is propositioned (in a reference to the original movie) by a three breasted hooker, all of which is shown in clear detail. On a side issue, it’s interesting to note that Paul Verhoven’s extremely violent and gory original was reclassified from an 18 to a 15 by the BBFC in July of this year. and this is nowhere near that violent or graphic.

Fans of the original may want to give it a miss as it does not hold a candle to that, but for anyone who hasn’t seen the original, I invite them to see this if they were interested, and then see how much better Verhoven’s is. Audiences should also be aware that the movie does contain strobe lighting effects.


Posted on August 29, 2012, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. This has been one of the biggest flops of 2012: less than $60 million against a $125 million budget. Plus, the reviews have been scathing. It’s refreshing to actually read a review that praises it as a “solid movie”.

    • I enjoyed it more on the whole than Len Wiseman’s take on the Die Hard franchise, It still has it’s problems, and I think it was far too early to remake it.

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