Total Recall (2012)

It’s been 22 years since Arnold Schwarzenegger’s eyes bugged out on the desolate Martian landscape in Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 cheeseball classic Total Recall.

And apparently director Len Wiseman (Underworld) thinks enough time has passed that a remake is not only possible but necessary.

If the rule of remakes is that they’re only allowed if they bring something new and worthwhile to the table, this remake doesn’t pass muster. If, though, you can forget the original (or if you’ve never had the pleasure), Wiseman’s remake actually works better than expected.

Based, as was the original, on Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”, Total Recall centers on Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell), a man who’s bored with his life in ‘The Colony’ on late-21st century Earth. He decides to try out Rekall, a company that promises to inject you with brand new memories of life as a secret agent, famous athlete, or anything else you desire.

As he’s sitting in the chair, though, things go haywire, and suddenly Quaid finds himself as a futuristic Jason Bourne– a finely-tuned killing machine… but he can’t remember why or how.

And then he returns home only to have his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) pull a gun on him and try to put him six feet under.

Before long, Quaid starts putting the pieces together and realizing who he really is, with the help of Jessica Biel as his ‘real life’ compatriot. But by then not only Lori is after him, but every Stormtrooper-looking police officer with a space gun, too.

The script by Kurt Wimmer (Salt) and Mark Bomback (Unstoppable) jettisons much of Dick’s original story (mostly in the second half). Mars, for example, is a distant memory (other than a brief mention), replaced instead by a post-apocalyptic Earth where England and Australia are all that exist.

Some characters are combined into one, others are omitted entirely, and none of it feels like it’s for any good reason. To their credit, Wimmer and Bomback included plenty of winks and nods to the original (the frumpy lady in line at the security checkpoint, the triply-endowed prostitute, and a bad guy’s arms getting severed by an elevator), but oddly we’re denied a repeat of perhaps the original’s most iconic line (about divorce).

Had the 1990 version never existed (and, in all fairness, for much of the crowd this weekend, it probably doesn’t), this re-do is actually a pretty fun, high-action joyride. Using Blade Runner‘s bleak, dystopian palette as inspiration, Wiseman creates a world where the rain, darkness, and crowded streets dominate.

He smartly choreographs plenty of high-tension chases and shootouts (intermittently broken up by highly distracting lens flare), and the cast plays off each other well; the fights between Beckinsale and Jessica Biel are particularly fun.

There honestly may not have been a need for it, and Philip K. Dick purists and fans of the original will probably excuse it with a simple shrug, but on its own, Total Recall is surprisingly memorable.

3.5/5 stars