© 2012 Ray Wong
I never quite understand why studios want to remake a classic -- a cult classic, at that -- except for one reason: money. Even then, the movie must be good enough to recoop the escalating costs, let alone make a profit. Unfortunately, I am afraid Total Recall may not be able to do that.
In 2083, Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is a poor factory worker who lives in the colony of the United Federated Britain (UFB) with his beautiful police officer wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale). Quaid lives his peaceful but dull and repetitive life, going to work every day with his best friend Harry (Bokeem Woodbine), but deep down he feels that he is something else, someone different. He's itching to try out Total Rekall where they can implant their customers with any experiences as memories. A botched visit, however, leads Quaid on the run from police. More fascinatingly, Quaid realizes he has skills and intincts of a spy.
He also realizes that his whole life has been a lie -- somehow his memories have been replaced. Lori, in reality, is working for Counselor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), a ruthless politician who intends to stage an invasion of the colony to squash the resistance, led by a recluse named Matthias (Bill Nighy). With the help of a rebel named Melina (Jessica Biel), Quaid tries to piece everything together and find out who he really is.
Colin Farrell (Fright Night) is a good actor especially in smaller films and roles such as In Bruges or Crazy Heart. As the action hero of a big-budget sci-fi action-adventure, however, Farrell gets bogged down and buried by all the special effects and stunts. Don't get me wrong, Farrell looks and acts the part, but he just can't rise above the material to make the role his own. Everyone is going to compare him with the original Quaid -- the unimitable Arnold Schwarzennigger. It's no small feat to begin with, and Colin seems lost in the production. I keep wondering if Mark Wahlburg would be a better choice as Quaid.
Kate Beckinsale successfully juggles between action (the Underworld series) and drama (Everybody's Fine), and she does a fine job, albeit one-dimensional (I blame that on the screenwriters, however). Still, as ruthless and beautiful as she is, she is no Sharon Stone, who was brilliant in the 1990 original. Jessica Biel (New Year's Eve) is utterly lost as Melina. She seems to have only two or three expressions, and her character is so underwritten and developed that she may as well be played by a robot.
Bryan Cranston (Rock of Ages) hams it up as Cohaagen. He's larger-than-life and seems to have a great time playing the villain. Bokeem Woodbine (Devil) is serviceable as Harry and has an interesting scene or two. Bill Nighy's (Wrath of the Titans) talent is completely wasted as Matthias, who has maybe five minutes of screentime and not much else to do. John Cho (American Reunion), however, makes good use of his limited screentime as Rekall owner McClane.
Written by Kurt Wimmer (Salt) and Mark Bomback (Unstoppable), the screenplay follows the same structure and general arcs of the original (which was based on Philip Dick's story). They change a few things though, so it's not exactly a remake, but a reboot instead. There is no Mars. No one ever goes there. There are no mutants, but there is a post-apocalyptic world with an oppressive, totalitarian government. Sounds familiar? The problem with the story and plot is that, in order to set itself apart from the original, it settles for something predictable and "safe." We've seen that world before, in V for Vendetta, Bladerunner, I Robot, even Star Wars, to name a few. There is nothing fresh here. In fact, the central theme of "who am I?" echoes eerily films such as The Truman Show, but in a less thought-provoking and profound way.
In fact, everything about the writing and production leans toward the profane. Under Len Wiseman's (Live Free or Die Hard) direction, the movie is loud, busy, face-paced and unrelenting. Granted, there are some eye-popping special effects and set pieces, and certain action sequences are impressive. Kudos to the production designs and art direction as well. They have done a great job creating that universe, and a few "updates" from the original movie are truly imaginative. However, in all that slickness and sophisticated production values and effects, it seriously lacks a heart. We never really have a chance to come to sympathize and relate to Quaid or Melina or Matthias or the rebels. Nothing matters except for the breakneck actions. The relentless nature of the plot leaves us no room to breathe, let alone getting to know and relate to the characters.
Even with the state of the art special effects that make the original look outdated and cheesy, it lacks the original's sense of wonderment, cheekiness, and over-the-top charm. And Mars is a much more interesting place than a nuclear wasteland.
Needless to say, I'm disappointed. With all the money they threw into this, and all the talents involved in the project, it falls way short. Is it entertaining? Definitely. Is it action packed? Absolutely. Is it an eye candy? Of course. But does it leave enough of an impression five minutes after you leave the theater? I am sorry -- I don't recall.
Stars: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine, Bill Nighy, John Cho
Director: Len Wiseman
Writers: Kurt Wimmer, Mark Bomback (based on Philip K. Dick's short story)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity, and language
Running Time: 118 minutes
Script - 5
Performance - 6
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 8
Music/Sound - 7
Editing - 8
Production - 9
Total - 6.1 out of 10.0