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Review: Total Recall (2012)

Total Recall (2012)

Directed by: Len Wiseman

Premise: A remake of the 1990 film. Set in the future, a factory worker (Colin Farrell) visits a company that implants false memories but then he begins to believe that he may be a member of a violent resistance movement.

What Works: Total Recall is a PG-13 sci-fi action film and it is satisfactory entertainment. Director Len Wiseman does this kind of action film quite well. His movies are pure popcorn showmanship designed for audiences who have grown up on video games and the stunts, chases, and shootouts come at a steady pace. Wiseman’s remake of Total Recall has the same kind of appeal as his previous efforts like Underworld and Live Free or Die Hard and it is never boring. In some ways this is a step up for Wiseman as the script reaches for big ideas. Total Recall is based upon a short story by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick and the film entertains some of the themes familiar to Dick’s work such as identity, technology, and the way those two things shape one another. The filmmakers of Total Recall aspire to the complexity and intelligence of Blade Runner (also based on a Dick story) but don’t quite get there. The film ends up a few notches below The Matrix in both its intelligence and storytelling although the fact that the filmmakers do earnestly go for the big ideas distinguishes Total Recall from the brain dead action of a Transformers picture. Total Recall also features an amusing performance by Kate Beckinsale as the villain. The actress is able to exude a campy menace and her performance is the best acting contribution in the film.

What Doesn’t: Although Total Recall is entertaining it is also forgettable because it succumbs to the modus operandi of other Hollywood remakes. The 2012 version of Total Recall is comparable to Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead in that the filmmakers adapt a picture that was daring and original and possessed social and political commentary by retaining the signature visuals and basic plot beats while straining out almost everything that was interesting about the story. The 1990 edition of Total Recall was directed by Paul Verhoeven, a director whose filmography is uneven but distinguished by risky, creative, and original pictures like Robocop, Starship Troopers, and Black Book. Like those films, Verhoeven’s Total Recall was a satisfying adventure with intelligent political themes sown into it. The Total Recall of 2012 is bigger and has more elaborate chases and special effects than its predecessor but it has also minimized the political overtones. That is significant because the political substance is exactly what gives meaning to a film like this. The picture also suffers from having a disinteresting protagonist. Colin Farrell is a good actor, as proven in films like In Bruge and A Home at the End of the World, but the script does not give the character moments for reflection or opportunities for growth. Farrell’s character could be anyone and he lacks the kind of agency that would make him heroic.

Bottom Line: Total Recall is satisfying as a piece of entertainment but its lack of both political substance and characterization makes it an empty movie. Unlike the 1990 version, it is doubtful that anyone will remember or appreciate this film in twenty years.

Episode: #400 (August 12, 2012)