Total Recall presents a dystopian view of the future where humankind live in either the United Federation of Britain (UFB) or the Colony, which is in Australia. The rest of the world has become uninhabitable due to catastrophic chemical warfare and is referred to as the ‘No Zone’. The UFB, which is generally where the affluent remnants of the upper middle classes reside, is connected to the Colony via “the Fall”, a gigantic, preposterous bus that travels through the centre of the earth. The Colony houses the proletariat, and is a dank, overpopulated mess of high-rise tenement complexes and factories.
The denizens of the Colony split their time between listening to dubstep, working and getting drunk in what is a believable, if a little flimsy, ‘lived-in’ vision of post-apocalyptic life. And it’s here we meet our unconvincing protagonist, Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), who is married to Lori (Kate Beckinsale). Quaid is a disgruntled factory worker who is underpaid, overworked, and constantly overlooked for promotion. His life is representative of the vapid drudgery of our own meagre day-to-day living and he suffers from vivid dreams of an action-packed life with a mysterious woman – like we all do.
At the behest of a co-worker, he visits Rekall, which – as we all know – is a company that makes dreams come true by implanting artificial memories in the brain-box. Naturally, something goes awry, and it turns out that Quaid’s desire to become a secret agent faces a contraindication in the fact that he is, in reality, a former secret agent. One would have thought that Rekall’s screening and vetting process prior to memory implants would be more thorough, but here we are. The result is that Quaid goes 730 on everyone and kills a dozen people. And when he gets home his wife gets as equally agitated and tries to kill him, because it turns out that she’s a secret agent too.
This is the point where any story arches that may have remained from the entertaining 1990 film of the same name, or the excellent Philip K. Dick short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, get discharged down the toilet and summarily flushed away.
To cut a protracted two-hour story short, Quaid is in fact Hauser, a top secret agent working for President Cohaagen (played by the fantastic Bryan Cranston – I’m so happy he’s getting more film roles), who went turncoat and joined sides with an ambiguous resistance, who have, in the public’s eye, been carrying out terrorist attacks that are orchestrated by the President. The girl from his dreams is Melina (Jessica Biel) and they were in love before Quaid had his memory replaced with that of a man who can’t quite seem to conceal his Irish accent.
The film benefits from some well-choreographed fight scenes, decent pace (up until about halfway through) and, as is now standard, impressive special effects. For adrenaline or endorphin junkies it might slow down a bit at points to keep up with your intravenous needs – as demonstrated by the well built gentleman sitting next to me at the screening, where he kept putting his face in his hands and wept from fatigue.
I suppose what really grated against me was the fact that the film broke some core rules. The reason I didn’t want to compare it directly to its 1990’s predecessor is because, for one thing, it doesn’t warrant comparison, and for another, it referenced it’s spiritual father in peculiar ways that completely destroyed my suspension of disbelief.
A re-make is a re-make, which is fair enough, and any amount of poetic license should be taken to realise it. This film contained but a couple of homages to the original (the woman with the three breasts, a tear instead of a bead of sweat), only one reference to Mars, and in some cases ostensibly employed the ancient filmic technique of hajike by having scenes from the previous film occur alongside ones happening. To paraphrase, imagine watching The Dark Knight Rises, only to see Adam West run in alongside Christian Bale and act out some bits from classic Batman episodes. It doesn’t work, and it made me look around the cinema with a “somebody help me I’m not sure what’s happening” face. And I hate making that face. It’s embarrassing.
Ultimately, the audience laughed when they were supposed to and enjoyed an action romp that wasn’t meant to be taken too seriously. However, I found myself sat in an acrid pool of my own referential cynicism, pining for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s DVD commentary from the original film during what felt more like psycho-physical endurance training than fun.
Reviewed by James Wright