Reimagining a movie can sometimes take more courage than a simple remake. It’s one thing to anger critics and those who think you’re being unoriginal, it’s quite another, however, to risk angering a generation of fans of the original, whether the original’s flawed or not. Len Wiseman takes on the challenge of reimagining Total Recall bringing his own action style, which will appeal to fans of his films. Whether hardcore fans of the original film will be satisfied may be another matter.
The major change is the film’s setting. Wiseman takes the film off of Mars and sets it entirely on a future earth, one decimated by chemical warfare and leaving just two inhabitable areas, one in Great Britain and a few surrounding regions, and the other “The Colony” in Australia. While both areas are overpopulated, The Colony is essentially an enormous slum, where many are forced to make a daily trip to Britain on “the Fall”, a transport taking them to the other side of the world through the Earth’s core in a manner of minutes. One of these workers is Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) who’s suffering from nightmares involving a young woman and being pursued by police. His wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) wonders if there’s something else going wrong. One night, Quaid decides to go out in his neighborhood and heads to Rekall, a company that implants memories into people’s minds. However, just as Quaid’s secret agent memories are about to be implanted, police burst in, shooting. Somehow, Quaid manages to make his way out, though he’s unsure how he possesses the skills necessary to do so. At home, Lori violently reveals that she’s actually an intelligence operative assigned to monitor Quaid, though she’s unaware of his true identity. Quaid eventually makes his way to Britain where he’s discovered by agents of the Resistance, including Melina (Jessica Biel), who appeared in his earlier dreams and seems to have a history with him. All the while, Quaid must seek out his true identity, while also uncovering the plans of the sinister Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston).
Wiseman and screenwriter Kurt Wimmer have crafted a story that’s very heavy on action, so fans of either of the pair’s previous films, such as Wiseman’s Underworld series, will likely enjoy this Total Recall. The numerous fight sequences move quickly but the audience should be able to follow them. The film really looks good, and the vision of a dystopian future on this planet seems both fully realized and realistic. Perhaps the best performance in the film comes from Beckinsale, Wiseman’s wife and star of the Underworld series, who gets to show off her fighting moves as a really interesting villainess. Cranston, too, gets to ham it up a bit as Cohaagen, and dominates most every scene he’s involved in. And one has to admire the ambition of Wiseman and Wimmer to try and turn the story into something more of their own, since it takes liberties with both the original film and the Philip K. Dick story that inspired it.
For those who aren’t necessarily the biggest fans of Wiseman’s kind of hyper-action, however, there’s perhaps less to love. Farrell does his best, but since his plotline is probably the least changed from the original, he’s asked to fill some pretty big shoes. Biel’s character doesn’t get much room to grow, aside from brief reveals about her history with Farrell’s character. We don’t know why she’s helping the Resistance or much of anything about her, other than having the uncanny knack of showing up in the nick of time. And while the world, on the whole, is convincingly built, certain aspects of it aren’t quite as believable. A robot army created by Cohaagen may feature the least intimidating robot soldiers since Jar Jar Binks led the Gungans into battle. And the philosophical question of whether you’re witnessing a dream (or memory implantation) or something that’s real isn’t really looked at seriously after a while.
Total Recall should find a following among serious action movie fans. For those who love the original, the story is different enough that they won’t feel their sacred ground has been trod upon, and fans of newer action films may find something new for their canon. There are some fun villains, and effective performances by the leads. But somehow, someway, something just seems like it’s missing from this version. Perhaps, like a shiny magnetic car, there’s not enough to drive it once it strays too far from its track.