Of all the movies Hollywood has to choose from for remaking, Total Recall certainly seemed like one of the stranger selections. A quintessentially goofy, meta take on the action genre from Paul Verhoeven, Total Recall was made remarkable by hosting a lot of weirdness while maintaining a solid Hollywood Action form.
The story’s re-greenlight makes more sense after seeing the final product. This version is directed by Len Wiseman, the guy known for launching the Underworld series and blowing up the Die Hard franchise – not a filmmaker of the highest standards, but one that accomplishes what he sets out to do.
As such, Total Recall 2012 isn’t a film looking to recreate or borrow from Verhoeven’s eccentricities. Instead, it’s Wiseman doing what he does and doing it decently well – unfortunately, that still leaves something to be desired.
In it, Doug (Colin Farrell) is a low-toiling blue-collar worker that, after one bad day, indulges in his future setting’s technological ability to instill experiences and memories into the human brain – or “Rekall”. Doug’s fantasy? He wants to be a secret agent that’s pursued by beautiful badasses (Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel) fighting for either side in a struggle between terrorists and totalitarianism.
That’s all well and good, but after one unforeseen complication during Doug’s procedure, he can’t tell if he’s experiencing the Rekall or real life. As he rockets through the world on his mission, he can’t know if he’s being pursued by figments of his imagination or actual people.
It’s not hard to see why Columbia Pictures found Total Recall such an attractive property for remaking. Following the commercial and critical success of Inception, Recall serves as a more accessible action vehicle that can pick up on themes that have a proven success at the box office – what is reality, and how should we act when we can’t know if we’re existing inside or outside of the mind?
It’s a fun Sci-Fi puzzle of a theme to explore – but Wiseman doesn’t do Science Fiction, he does action. So instead of taking advantage of Total Recall’s cerebral capacities, what we get more closely recalls Attack of the Clones – both in its subplot (an army of droids being created for ill political will), as well as its art direction.
The latter is where Total Recall shines. Wiseman’s post-21st century setting is a maze of boxes annexed on top of, to the side, and even under buildings in the world’s two remaining countries – which, on opposite ends of the planet, are connected by a skyscraper sized tram that burrows right through the middle of the planet.
Farrell hops, skips and jumps from dimensional platform to angular platform in action sequences that resemble Platform video games, all in a world filled with light grey and lens flare. None of it is interesting or necessary, but it is very cool.
Unfortunately, the attention paid to world-building isn’t matched elsewhere in the film. The plot is treated as nothing more than a vehicle to take us from action sequence to action sequence, and none of the cast – not even a mostly absent Colin Farrell or Brian Cranston – steps up to take the story anywhere. The action is far from lackluster, but it never approaches memorability.
Total Recall barely puts itself above the pack of non-tentpole action extravaganzas, but never asserts itself and becomes the blast it’s going for. But in spite of that, the eye candy might be enough to get you through.
I give Total Recall 2.5 “Needs more Heisenberg”s out of 5.
By Ian T. McFarland