Total Recall, the “new” movie from the writing, directing, and producing team that brings you the Underworld movies, is a remake of the lauded 1990 original and the latest big budget, science fiction flick to find its way into our theaters.
The story is about a man, this time around played by Colin Farrell, bored with his life who decides to have much more exciting memories implanted in his mind. Then things go haywire, and the man begins chasing his identity while law enforcement agents chase him. It’s all very hectic, moderately entertaining, and, in my opinion, ultimately forgettable.
The original Total Recall was something like Blade Runner meets North By Northwest, a case of maybe mistaken identity in a fascinating future world. This remake is more like Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones meets The Bourne Identity but without any of what makes The Bourne Identity great and all of what makes Attack of the Clones annoying.
I don’t know where the line is between reference and rip-off, but this remake of Total Recall crosses it with abandon. We have The Bourne Identity‘s plot mixed with Blade Runner’s visual motif glossed over with I, Robot‘s CGI sheen. The action sequences are lifted from Attack of the Clones and Inception. The jokes (what few are included) are Spielberg’s.
The one thing that makes Total Recall endurable is the presence of Colin Farrell, who can be a fine actor, and Kate Beckinsale, who is a lot of fun to watch kick people and shoot guns. But the whole time I was watching them, I wished I was watching In Bruges or Minority Report or any of the Underworld movies instead.
Do I recommend Total Recall? No. It’s not bad, but you’d be better off watching any of the movies I’ve mentioned thus far (except for maybe Attack of the Clones). Or, just watch the original Total Recall, a curiously popular movie that isn’t a waste of time and a viewing of which will increase your pop-culture vocabulary a little. The original was, incidentally, the last good movie Arnold Schwarzenegger ever starred in that wasn’t directed by James Cameron.
Now, a brief word on what this movie is “about.”
This movie is about very little. Maybe there’s something going on there about choosing the person you want to be irregardless of your past. If that’s there, it’s not handled with any seriousness. In fact, any discussion the movie might have wanted to have on that topic is undermined by a small change made from the original in this version of Total Recall.
Without spoiling anything, in the original, at a key moment, a character reveals something to the rest of the characters that changes your perception of what’s been going on. That’s really Total Recall‘s whole game – whom the audience is supposed to believe the main character, Quaid, is really working for constantly switches back and forth. In the original, there is a reveal that settles things.
In this version, that same reveal is included, but a different character reveals the pertinent piece of information. Because of this, Quaid’s true identity remains ambiguous. He still has to make a choice about who to be, but he never really knows who he was.
In the original, Quaid chooses to be a better person. In this one, because of the ambiguity, he chooses to be a person, but that person either is or is not someone better than who he was before, thereby robbing the narrative of a conclusive character arc. Quaid essentially learns nothing, and the audience, therefore, learns nothing as well. We all know more, but that more is rendered meaningless by the ambiguity of the story.
In the end, Quaid is the same person he was when the movie began. He’s just really good at killing people now, his life is much more exciting, and the audience is out 15 bucks per person without a single nugget of philosophical truth to show for it.
Watch something else instead.