Reviewed by Ian Forbes, Sobering Conclusion
Before I get to actually reviewing the 2012 version of Total Recall, I would like to applaud the film for one thing: providing a fully topless shot of a woman within a PG-13 movie. There’s a technicality as to why it probably got through the censor board (no spoilers from me on this one) but it’s always fun to see the MPAA acting like hypocrites.
In any case, with the latest film “inspired” by the Philip K. Dick short story, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”, director Len Wiseman has taken out the campiness of the Arnold Schwarzenegger version and gone with a more direct and grounded approach. Gone is the mention of getting anyone’s ass to Mars (which is in the short story), and rather than dealing with a greedy corporate executive the conflict is rooted in political aspirations. Colin Farrell takes over for Arnold, Kate Beckinsale assumes a mixture of Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside, and Jessica Biel steps into Rachel Ticotin’s shoes.
Casting wise, everything worked well enough for a summer popcorn flick. Farrell has the right mix of real acting ability and physicality, which is actually a better fit for the role than Schwarzenegger. With Wiseman in the director’s chair, casting Beckinsale was no surprise (they’re married with kids if you didn’t know); she does a good job for the most part though I personally missed the gruffness of Michael Ironside. Bryan Cranston and Bill Nighy make for nice inclusions though their screen time is quite limited. Really, given what the goal of this film is, if any one actor should have been replaced it’s Biel; there’s zero chemistry between her and Farrell. Also, like in pretty much every role she’s ever had, her emotions read like a shaken Etch-a-Sketch: blank.
Of course, if there is one thing that’s going to be a clear upgrade when you’re reintroducing a story on-screen after 22 years, it’s the special effects. They’re pretty good, and unsurprisingly far, far better than what Paul Verhoeven could muster with technology from 1990. The big problem for science fiction fans will likely be the numerous elements that echo other films in the genre. Whether it’s the likeness of the worldscape to Bladerunner, the car chases of Minority Report (both also Philip K. Dick adaptations), or the robot security forces’ similarities to I, Robot and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, there’s a constant barrage of “borrowed” items that look cool for the most part but also reinforce the irony of this movie coming from the Original Film production company.
And despite constantly feeling like the action scenes were culled from other films, they do work. Whether it’s a rooftop pursuit, the aforementioned car chase, or a truly excellent elevator fight, the movie’s best asset is its pace. Despite running right at the two-hour mark, once the switch in Farrell’s head is flipped, the script rarely stops to grow a brain and slow down the proceedings.
The bottom line for whether one should be queued up at the movie theaters or not probably relies on your attachment to Arnold’s spin on the story. Wiseman and company have done such a good job of matching up the basic beats of the original that the fun of having things twist and turn is non-existent. Assuming one isn’t offended by this updated version, it’s a decent action film; sure to be far more fun for those born after the mid-80s.
Total Recall doesn’t so much suffer from being a bad film (in terms of it being a summer actioner) but it’s akin to all the others that are little more than facelifts of their predecessors. Assuming you’ve seen the original, there isn’t much point to seeing it redone. If this is entirely new to you and the trailer excites you, by all means give it a shot. If you already know what’s real and what’s not, feel free to wait for it to hit a TV channel you already pay for.
Total Recall hits theaters on August 3, 2012 and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity, and language.