Total Recall is an action thriller about reality and memory, inspired anew by the famous short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick. Welcome to Rekall, the company that can turn your dreams into real memories. For a factory worker named Douglas Quaid, even though he has a beautiful wife whom he loves, the mind-trip sounds like the perfect vacation from his frustrating life – real memories of life as a super-spy might be just what he needs. But when the procedure goes horribly wrong, Quaid becomes a hunted man. Finding himself on the run from the police – controlled by Chancellor Cohaagen – there is no one Quaid can trust, except possibly a rebel fighter working for the head of the underground resistance. The line between fantasy and reality gets blurred and the fate of his world hangs in the balance as Quaid discovers his true identity, his true love, and his true fate.
In April 1966, ‘We can remember it for you wholesale’ by Philip K. Dick was published in a science/fiction fantasy magazine before being reprinted in later years as part of the collected stories of Philip K. Dick and as its own self-contained release. The short story has gone on to become the subject of two film adaptations, the first being the well-known film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger that was released in 1990 and now the new film starring Colin Farrell.
Here we have Len Wiseman bringing his interpretation of Philip K. Dick’s story to the screen, Wiseman is well known for the ‘Underworld’ franchise and here we see many of his creative touches and styles coming across to a sci/fi setting, though this isn’t to say it’s a good thing.
‘Total Recall’ doesn’t present itself as a remake of the 1990 film so much, but more as a new interpretation/adaptation of the same story that spawned the previous film. Depicting a bleak future, the film wastes no time setting up the characters, and jumping straight into the action.
From beginning to end ‘Total Recall’ is packed full of chase sequences, fight scenes, action set-pieces, all making for one almost non-stop two hour action extravaganza which, can be entertaining but is delivered at the cost of a comprehensible story underpinning any of the events on screen.
It’s an unfortunate outcome for the film as the short story explores some interesting themes built around different aspects of the mind, the implanting of false memories and differentiating between what is real and what is not, what defines who we are? but the film barely mentions any of these ideas let alone explores them.
Characters are superficial, with little to zero development, progression or backstory, ultimately being character archetypes rather than characters themselves, while the overall film itself clumsily stumbles from one scene to the next, being far more interested in appealing visuals and fight choreography that with dialogue or plot.
Having said that, the visuals and fight choreography do have their entertainment value, the film delivers a visual effects feast, the characters charge through action set-piece after set-piece and the close up fight scenes bring a lot of fun to the viewing experience.
No cast members are given anything particularly substantial to work with, ‘Total Recall’ is comprised of single-note characters across the board, but despite this the performances are pretty well rounded. Kate Beckinsale only has one thing to do for the entire film but manages to deliver that one thing with an edgy intensity that does the film credit, Jessica Biel and Colin Farrell are in a similar situation but both make the most of it while Bill Nighy is left highly underutilised.
The tone that Wiseman establishes here is quite different to its predecessor, with a clear decision taken not to retain any of the campy aesthetics of the 1990 ‘Total Recall’. This time around the film takes itself very seriously and with a more grounded setting, Wiseman’s approach allows it to differentiate itself enough to stand on its own merits and interpretation of the book rather than being viewed exclusively as a remake (though it includes a number of references to the previous film).
Overall ‘Total Recall’ is an excellent example of style over substance, but it’s an entertaining one and has the potential to be crowd pleaser for those purely looking for some sci/fi action entertainment at the movies. Unfortunately the film is simultaneously one huge missed opportunity, the subject matter is worthy of a far more stimulating and compelling film than what has been delivered here.
I’m giving ‘Total Recall’ 5 out of 10 stars, it will be released in cinemas around Australia on Thursday 23rd August 2012.