If, for whatever reason, you wanted to see Hollywood remake a Hollywood film and do it worse than the original, you need not look further than Len Wiseman’s Total Recall. Here is a movie that bills itself as a revisualisation of the 1990 original, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. And indeed it is. It is visually completely different. It is designed with a flair for space and colour, and every aspect of its mechanics has been updated and modified to best suit the 21st century. But when it comes to the narrative and its characters, it’s about as deep as the baby’s end of a swimming pool.
The original Total Recall stands now as a cult classic (though the term itself is broad). It was crude in its design but rich in characterisation, mood, and story. Schwarzenegger made the perfect Douglas Quaid because even though he was bulky and imposing, he was frail and genuinely clueless. He was caught up in a swirl of events that he was certain he had nothing to do with, and what stands him apart from Colin Farrell’s interpretation in this remake is that we really felt for him.
Farrell by comparison is leaner, and he is, on paper, the better actor, yet for all his skill and experience he lacks sympathy. He is not a confused man caught in confusing situations; he is a skilled fighter being swept along for the ride only because his memories have been replaced (implanted). When it comes to the action sequences, he is as deft and as emotionless as Jason Bourne. We get the feeling that he is not helpless, only forgetful. There is a scene that pits Farrell’s Quaid against his old buddy, Harry (Bokeem Woodbine), and Melina (Jessica Biel). Harry is trying to persuade Quaid that he is living in a fantasy. Melina is trying to persuade him that Harry is full of bollocks. Through it all, Quaid looks about as lost as a child at the information counter, and all I’m thinking is: Does it matter who he believes?
This movie is a remake, so it is only customary that it contains links and threads to the original. It’s split down the middle. On the one hand, the characters and their roles are constant. Quaid is Hauser and Hauser is Quaid, and he is very confused about this, as he was when his face looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Melina tunes in to the same frequency as her original. And the characters of Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) and Lori (Kate Beckinsale) continue their quest to incite havoc and create general uneasiness.
What’s different is the way these characters go about their routine. The world — we are told via heavy text at the movie’s start — has become largely uninhabitable due to poisonous chemical fumes. Only two areas survive: a great Britain Federation, and The Colony, which is pretty much the whole of Australia. This relationship between Britain and Australia is not so subtly handled. To travel between the two territories, one must rocket through the Earth’s core in what is known as The Fall. Every day countless factory workers take this route. Where’s Mars? I hear you say. There is no Mars. The entire story takes place on Earth, between the poor outcasts and the rich aristocrats. There are also robot policemen who don’t do much else except march, chase, break into pieces, and follow the traditional Hollywood machine gun rule of not hitting their targets with a single bullet.
Yet the most glaring difference for me is the character of Lori, who is inexplicably upgraded from cheating wife in the original film to full-on killing machine here. Kate Beckinsale is pretty, yes, and she can play the ruthless game about as well as the next lady, but why is she given such a large part? Why are her fighting skills so incomparable? Why is she so hell-bent on killing Quaid when she only finds out his true identity after her cover’s blown? Does she feel cheated? I hope she does. I felt cheated by watching this movie. It is pretty and energetic, but ultimately it is hollow. And quite honestly speaking, it’s unnecessary.
Best Moment | The one and only throwback to the original film. It involves a short, stout lady in a yellow jacket walking through a security scanner, and the words “two weeks”.
Worst Moment | Pretty much everything else.