Story: In a dystopian future the working classes are oppressed and forced to live in Australia. Factory worker Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is dissatisfied with his life and goes to the shady ‘Recall’ company to have memories of a more exciting ‘secret agent life’ implanted. However, something goes wrong in the process and Quaid finds himself on the run, chased by his government-employed wife (Kate Beckinsale) and capable of some proper combat. All he now needs to do is to find out what, and who, he really is.
Let us first of all remark how different this Total Recall is from the 1990 Paul Verhoeven film of the same title, which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone. Unlike the first adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” this new film is no tongue-in-cheek satire. It is a very serious, very straightforward action sci-fi flick, which only one second thought serves as a commentary on modern society. This gives relevance and legitimacy to the film. A simple copy-with-younger-faces-and-better-CGI-effects would not have added anything new.
However we must note at the same time how few new things we see and hear. It is curious how a film about false memories can be such a deja-vu trip. The world of Len Wiseman’s Total Recall seems built out of leftovers from the sets of other Philip K. Dick adaptations: The Colony (Australia) is basically Blade Runner’s futuristic LA. And the more up-scale United Federation of Britain is a multi-storey version of Washington DC in Minority Report. Furthermore there are flashbacks to I, Robot, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (armies of synthetic soldiers) and The Matrix (plugged in brains, close hand-to-hand combat).
Certain plot points also reminded me of The Matrix as well. But it is not fair to criticize the film on this account, because Philip K. Dick’s original short story predates the Wachowski movie(1999) by 33 years. Nonetheless, as earlier in the year with John Carter, we can acknowledge that the source material might have been original, but that we – nowadays – have already seen it done in film before. Many times. And better.
All of which does not mean that this Total Recall is a bad film. It is a perfectly acceptable Friday night’s piece of entertainment. It has spectacular action sequences and likeable actors. I always enjoy watching Colin Farrell, and he is definitely a more appropriate Douglas Quaid than the Governator ever was. Kate Beckinsale is nice and feisty as the not-so-loving wife of Quaid, Bryan Cranston is a proper bad guy and Bill Nighy elevates any film with his presence. Only Jessica Biel is slightly short-changed as mystery woman Melina.
Final verdict: I had brought my 3D glasses to the cinema, as I was somehow convinced that this was a 3D film. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was not. However, it is perhaps slightly worrying that this is what I will remember best of Total Recall. And that was not a problem that ever haunted Verhoeven’s campy, ultra-violent satire.