Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 13, 2013)
Colin Farrell, King of the Hollywood Remake! For a few years there, it looked like the actor would specialize in big screen adaptations of TV cop shows, as Farrell starred in 2003’s SWAT and 2006’s Miami Vice. Ferrell laid off this kind of remade fare until 2011 when he did Fright Night, a reworking of the 1985 horror/comedy. Farrell then followed that effort with 2012’s Total Recall, a new version of the 1990 Schwarzenegger hit.
I didn’t think much of the 2011 Fright Night, but I felt fondness for the original might’ve interfered with my enjoyment of the remake. I’m not as wild about the 1990 Recall, though, so this left me more open to the remake’s charms – in theory, at least.
Set in the not-too-distant future, a prologue tells us that chemical warfare left most of the world uninhabitable. Civilized society fills the United Federation of Britain, while “the 99%” reside in “The Colony”, a territory that occupies Australia. Companies transport blue-collar workers from the Colony to the UFB via “The Fall”, a super-tunnel that cuts through the Earth’s core.
Doug Quaid (Farrell) lives in the Colony and works on an assembly line that creates mechanized law enforcement officers. Despite a happy marriage to sexy wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale), he feels somewhat unfulfilled and wishes for a bit more excitement.
This leads Quaid to “Rekall”, an organization that promises “virtual vacations” via memory implants. Quaid chooses a plan that allows him to mentally live out a fantasy as a secret agent. However, something goes wrong during the procedure, as it turns out that Quaid really is a secret agent – he just doesn’t remember any of those experiences. The movie follows his adventures along with co-agent Melina (Jessica Biel) as they contend with a plot perpetrated by leader Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston).
Or do they? In the original film, we were often left to wonder how much of the story was real and how much was Memorex. That still plays a minor role in the remake, but don’t expect much to come of it. The 2012 version doesn’t toy with Quaid’s mind – and the audience’s – quite as much as its predecessor.
That lack of nuance is just one of the weaknesses that befall the remake. On the positive side, the 2012 Recall boasts much stronger production values. While I often criticize computer-generated effects, I must admit they look consistently terrific here. Production design clearly takes a cue from Blade Runner, but I still find the intricate cityscapes of Recall to add a special quality to the film. The visuals blend well and create a nice sense of life.
The 2012 version also comes with a better cast, though I don’t think they do much with their roles. Most of the actors here are more talented, but they don’t provide performances that exceed those of their predecessors.
That’s largely because most of them look kind of bored. Beckinsale invests the most heavily in her role; she doesn’t compete with the fun bitchiness Sharon Stone brought to the part in 1990, but at least she looks like she’s awake. On the other hand, Farrell and Biel seem vaguely sedated most of the time, and Cranston’s take on Cohaagen isn’t nearly as juicy as Ronny Cox’s.
It also seems like a mistake to cast two actresses who look a fair amount alike. In the original, we got blonde, semi-Nordic Sharon Stone and brunette Latina Rachel Ticotin; I guarantee no one ever confused one for the either. Here, however, it often becomes tough to tell which one is which, a factor exacerbated by the movie’s jumpy editing; with so much rapid-fire cutting, it becomes difficult to discern Beckinsale from Biel.
The 2012 Recall manages to strip the basic fun from the original. Whatever complaints I had about the 1990 version, at least it played loose and light with the material and kept things moving. In this one, we get precious little humor, as the film takes itself awfully seriously.
It also lacks much real plot. We’re stuck with a vague narrative about government corruption and a planned violent takeover of the Colony, but these don’t usually amount to much. Instead, we mostly just watch Quaid run away from danger and occasionally skirmish. We don’t invest in his tale or care what happens to him. The film dollops out details at an appropriate rate, but it doesn’t make these components interesting; they’re just windowdressing for a lot of running and fighting.
All of this adds up to a surprisingly dull film. Total Recall looks great but it’s less filling. Despite a lavish visual world, the film lacks much real excitement and tends toward snoozer territory.
Fun fact: The Campaign came out a week after Recall and it included a character named "Tim Wattley". That name was borrowed from Seinfeld where "Tim Whatley" was played by... Bryan Cranston!