Total Recall is a remake of a film of the same name starring Arnold Schwarzenegger released in 1990, itself based on a short story by Philip K. Dick entitled We Can Remember it for You Wholesale. This version of Total Recall differs from the short story and original film by setting its action entirely on Earth rather than on Earth and Mars. It deals with the same themes of identity and memory as the original, but gives more focus to the politics of future Earth than its predecessors.
In the 21st Centrury Earth is divided into two habitabal zones, the United Federation of Britain (in place of the former UK) and The Colony (Australia), which are connected by a transportation unit that goes through the centre of the Earth called ‘The Fall.’ Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) is a factory worker who keeps having dreams of another life. Bored of his existence, he goes to a Rekall facility to have the memories of a spy implanted, however before the procedure can be completed, McClane (John Cho) who runs the facility realises that Quaid already has suppressed memories as a special unit of police officers are sent in to eliminate everyone in the room. Having escaped Quaid flees back to his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) who turns out to be an undercover police officer sent to keep Quaid from learning the truth.
Having escaped again, Quaid meets the woman from his dreams, Melina (Jessica Biel) and follows a series of clues to find out the truth of who he is and whether his existence is all a dream. Meanwhile the Government, lead by Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) hatch a plan to flatten the Colony and its financially poor inhabitants to make more space for the richer inhabitants of the United Federation of Britain. Cohaagen plans to use a series of faked terrorist attacks as reason to go through with his plan, hoping to find resistance leader Matthias (Bill Nighy) and destroy the resistance once and for all.
Despite having a very similar plot, the remake of Total Recall is an entirely different beast to the original. Gone is the wry sense of humour, the bizarre landscape of Mars and the quippy one-liners of Arnie, all replaced with a slick vision of the future and more gadgets than you can shake an iPad at. Director Len Wiseman goes to great lengths to create a world that appears fully functional and blends rather neat futuristic ideas with the most modern of technology, making it seem believable as a vision of a dystopian future.
Everything from phones implanted into peoples hands, to buildings that are fully automated without a hint of plant life, Total Recall‘s future Earth is a chilling and fascinating place to entrall and beguile at every turn. He also uses various visual tricks like lense flare and long continuous shots that zoom in and out to give a slightly warped view of reality, which cleverly implies that the action you’re seeing might not be entirely truthful. Sadly this story thread is not pursued to the same strength as the original, making it seem like an afterthought rather than a compelling central thrust.
The cast do a good job of conveying the sometimes confusing and intricate plot, with Beckinsale and Farrell the real standouts. Yet Total Recall feels rather emotionless and detached, almost like a record of an interesting moment in history rather than an actual story told with character depth and development. Perhaps it all ties into the underlying narrative of Quaid not knowing who he really is, but even with his implanted memories the audience never really gets to know Total Recall‘s main protagonist. The rest of the cast, while interesting on the surface are all in fact caricatures with very little to differentiate them from other characters of a similar type in any one of a number of previous science fictions films.
The action scenes are long, but well thought out, and despite there being a sense that the narrative is sometimes simply a link to the next level-jumping extravaganza, at least these are enjoyable and entertaining. Unlike more recent science fiction action films like Lockout, Total Recall knows how to construct a fun action scene and these often prove some of the best moments. However the lack of character depth and overly long running time force the pacing to lose its way toward the end, and when the credits finally role you will have had more than enough of Quaid and his future Earth. No where near as long-lasting of effecting as the original, Total Recall is an acceptable science fiction action film, with some neat touches, but not nearly enough depth.