From the outset it must be noted that Len Wiseman’s 2012 version of Total Recall is a direct remake of the 1990 Paul Verhoeven film, not another adaptation of the original Philip K. Dick short story, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, and what we are left with is a pointless, soulless barrage of slow motion, explosions and bloodless gun battles, aiming squarely at a younger audience and omitting anything that made the original so much fun, directed by the filmmaker who castrated John McClane in Die Hard 4.0. We can’t say we weren’t warned.
Set solely on an Earth ravaged by chemical warfare, people now live in one of the only two remaining cities; The United Federation of Britain (mostly the south east of England and northern France) and The Colony (Australia). A wealth and class divide exists between the two places, with the poor of The Colony commuting to the affluent U.F.B. everyday by travelling through an immense tunnel through the Earth’s crust and mantle. One of these commuters, factory worker Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell), suffers from recurring dreams about being a spy involved with a beautiful girl in a desperate situation. His wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale), is concerned and his co-worker, Harry (Bokeem Woodbine) warns him to stay away from Rekall, a company that can insert false memories.
Quaid ignores them and visits Rekall anyway, where he asks for the spy memory program. Before it can be implanted, soldiers and deadly robots invade the room and kill everyone before Quaid’s hidden skills are awakened and he takes them all out. It seems that Chancellor Cohagen (Bryan Cranston) is interested in what is in Quaid’s head and wants him alive, however Lori has different ideas, and when Quaid returns home she reveals her true colours and tries to kill him. Now on the run, Quaid has to find out what happened to him and who he really is before millions of people are killed.
Taking itself way too seriously and failing to acknowledge the silliness that the original embraced so fully, there is little to no fun to be had here. Verhoeven’s film knew how daft it was with exploding heads, bloodied bodies and Martian mutants galore. Wiseman and his writers, including Kurt Wimmer (Equilibrium), seem only to know about imitating surface values without learning what made the original tick. The story is pretty much a beat for beat redo but set on an overcrowded Earth and without any references to Mars, mutants or giving “dese peepul air!” It is all simply reduced to a big budget and yet completely unremarkable action movie to be forgotten the moment you leave the cinema.
The cast are mostly wasted. Colin Farrell tries valiantly as Quaid/Hauser but cannot overcome the problems inherent in the decisions made by the filmmakers, and he is better than what he is given here. Beckinsale at least has some relish with a role that combines Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside’s characters from the original but has confused motivations. Ironside’s Richter was angry at Quaid for sleeping with his wife, but Beckinsale’s Lori just wants to kill Quaid for no obvious reason. Like Richter, she’s specifically told to keep Quaid alive but wants to kill him simply because she’s a baddie.
Biel has little to do except play a token role with an extremely flat character. Her relationship with Quaid is both unbelievable and almost non-existent, despite her being the reason his character grew a conscience in the first place, we are told. Bryan Cranston’s Cohagen is cartoonish and fake, resembling someone who wandered in off a SyFy TV movie. Wearing a silly wig, he delivers dreadful line after dreadful line, every utterance a cliché even by Wiseman’s video game standards. The original character of Kuato, the rebel leader who grew out of his twin’s torso, is gone, now replaced with Bill Nighy as just another rebel leader who gets one scene, which is surely criminal.
As opposed to trying to engage the audience (or even admit they are there), Wiseman delivers more and more moments where things might have looked cool to him but are essentially lost in his disregard for any sense of urgency, but the film smashes through what is really a straightforward narrative, going for stylistic decisions we’ve seen time and time again in video game cut scenes. The vision is essentially dour, favouring a half-baked Janusz Kaminski style grey/black look, but also veering clearly into Blade Runner fanboy indulgence territory. Rain pummels a population holding Chinese umbrellas amongst neon signs and airborne adverts for Rekall; familiar territory that really should be avoided.
There are some pointless references to the original in the form of some throwaway Mars lines and an inexplicable cameo from a three breasted prostitute who the filmmakers have forgotten had at least some reason for her condition in the original. In this version, she’s just there, with no explanation within the story itself; fan service of the lowest order.
There are two ways the 2012 version of Total Recall can be viewed. The first is without having seen the original and treating it as a standalone action movie, an overblown but essentially mediocre exercise in slow motion and explosions. However, viewed as a direct remake, which is unapologetically is, it is an entirely worthless endeavour that serves only to fill studio pockets with minimum creative effort.