Hollywood’s obsession with remaking great films, good films, and even bad films continues with the remake of Total Recall, a sci-fi thriller based on the terrific short story by the late Philip K. Dick, “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale.”
Made only 22 years after the original was a hit, both at the box office and with critics, the remake both exceeds and pales in comparison to the original. Sadly, the only ways in which director Len Wiseman’s 2012 version is better than its predecessor is in its visual presentation. The special effects are wonderful, the sets brilliant and compelling. But there is not much else about Total Recall 2012 of a positive nature.
For those familiar with the original film, there will be no trip to Mars. Here, the conflict is between a resistance that is seeking to free “The Colony” (Australia) from the very firm rule of the “United Federation of Britain.” They are the only two land masses left on Earth after World War III that are habitable without the use of a gas mask. Travel between the two is accomplished by means of “The Fall,” a gigantic subway-like device that travels to and from through the center of the planet, right through the Core. Anyone who saw the disaster that was The Core knows why this is problematic in reality.
Colin Farrell is “Douglas Quaid,” a worker on a construction line that constructs “synthetics”, the mechanical police/soldiers that the Federation uses to enforce their very restrictive laws, although the synthetics work alongside and are controlled by humans. He is married to “Lori” (Kate Beckinsale) who is an EMT. Doug is having nightmares about trying to escape someone chasing him during which he is trying to save himself and a beautiful woman.
In spite of warnings from his friend and co-worker “Harry” (Bokeem Woodbine), Doug decides to visit Rekall, a business that will give you memories of having done something you’ve only dreamt of doing. Something amazing, magical, and those memories will stay with you for the rest of your life. But as they are hooking Doug up to their machine, a scan of his mind reveals that his desired memory implant, that of a secret agent, already exists in his mind (there’s a rule against giving someone a memory they already have). But before they can stop, cops bust in and shoot all the Rekall workers and try to take Doug into custody.
One minute he’s an assembly line worker, cowering on the floor and the next he’s a combination of John Rambo and Li Mu Bai, and all the cops are dead. Killed by his hand or by him with their own guns. He makes his escape and heads home, where his lovely wife Lori tries to comfort him, before she tries to kill him herself. She reveals that he isn’t who he thought he was, that his memories were an implant and that the leader of the Federal, “Cohaagen” (Bryan Cranston) himself put him into this situation.
Jessica Biel is good as “Melina”, the woman who aids Quaid/Hauser in his efforts to get to “Matthias” (Bill Nighy) because there is vital information buried in Hauser’s mind that will help the resistance overcome the plans of Cohaagen. Farrell is adequate in the lead role, and manages to give some of the range of emotions that a man who finds out he is not who he thought he was, but if forced to compare his performance to that of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the original, Arnold wins easily.
The original film features a henchman named “Richter” who worked for Cohaagen, was a friend of Hauser and was having an affair with the female agent who was posing as Quaid’s wife. This role has been written out in the remake and the void used to build up the role of “Lori.” That this did or didn’t happen because Kate Beckinsale is the wife of director Len Wiseman is pure speculation. But the result is unsatisfying. She seems to have some personal vendetta against Hauser because of his legend as a highly effective agent and it just seems senseless.
When all is said and done, this is a remake that should not have been.