*** (out of 5)
August 3, 2012
Colin Farrell as DOUGLAS QUAID
Kate Beckinsale as LORI QUAID
Jessica Biel as MELINA
Bryan Cranston as COHAAGEN
Bokeem Woodbine as HARRY
Bill Nighy as MATTHIAS
John Cho as MCCLANE
Directed by: Len Wiseman
BY KEVIN CARR
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Like most remakes, it’s almost impossible to review the new “Total Recall” without at least comparing it a little bit to the 1990 original, directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Considering only 22 years have passed between movies, the original film hasn’t totally slipped out of the public’s consciousness.
Still, if you’re going to throw some money down to see the new version of the film, you probably don’t want to revisit the original, or the new movie will spend much of its time in its shadow.
Like the original, “Total Recall” tells the story of an average worker named Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) who has a humdrum job and a loving, beautiful wife. However, when he takes a trip to Rekall, which uses manufactured memories to give people the history of a vacation, he realizes that he might actually be a secret agent. This sends him on the run with people trying to kill him, leading him to try and uncover his original mission.
There are some nice nods to the original film, including some minor set design elements, famous lines and the much-talked-about three-breasted prostituted (yes, she’s definitely in the film, nipples and all). There is definitely a sense that at least for part of the film, there was an attempt to pay homage to the 90s classic.
However, there are some significant differences, if not in overall story but in plot points and set-up. First, it’s a huge disappointment that the film abandons the Mars element in lieu of an upstairs-downstairs approach to the class system on Earth. Instead of shuttling our hero off to Mars, he goes back and forth from the United Federation of Britain and the economically distraught Colony in Australia. (The rest of the world was wiped out by apocalyptic wars, as is explained in the opening sequence.)
It’s not that Mars was that critical to the film’s story (although this leaves the silly Maguffin from the first movie out in the cold), but it provided a neat sense of pulp sci-fi wonder that helped make the movie fun. Without this, we’re left with a film that emulates the standard Asian-influenced “Blade Runner” production design where everything takes place in dark alleys where it rains all the time.
Also missing is the whole mutant angle, which goes hand-in-hand with the Mars angle. However, the movie does get points by throwing in some cool automaton soldiers that feel like a bit of a nod to “Star Wars” and “Battlestar Galactica.”
Also, Colin Farrell is as interesting on screen as Sam Worthington, who is a good-looking guy but has no real pizzazz in an everyman role. As bad of an actor as Schwarzenegger was in the 1990 film, he offered a healthy dose of cheesy goodness in the midst of his heyday as an action star.
A lot of people have complained about the PG-13 rating that is much softer than Verhoeven’s original R-rated cut, but the biggest differences is just the amount of blood that flies out of bullet holes when people get shot. I was okay with the PG-13 constraint, as it didn’t feel overly edited or sanitized.
Still, even with these problems, I did enjoy the movie. There are some fantastic action sequences, and one in particular that involves a “Minority Report” and “I, Robot” inspired car chase with some quality practical effects to give it some weight.
Taken in a vacuum, “Total Recall” is a passable early-August actioner with some exciting scenes and enough of the original’s spirit to make it work. Did I want it to be better? You betcha. But at this time of the year, you can’t expect perfection.