Colin Farrell as Douglas Quaid / Hauser
Kate Beckinsale as Lori Quaid
Jessica Biel as Melina
Bryan Cranston as Cohaagen
Bokeem Woodbine as Harry
Bill Nighy as Matthias
John Cho as McClane
Will Yun Lee as Marek
Milton Barnes as Resistance Fighter
James McGowan as Military Adjutant
Natalie Lisinska as Bohemian Nurse
Michael Therriault as Bank Clerk
Stephen MacDonald as Slacker
Mishael Morgan as Rekall Receptionist
LinLyn Lue as Resistance Woman
Directed by Len Wiseman
Sometime in the future, the earth has become unlivable except for two vast overpopulated cities, the United Federation of Britain where all the wealthy people live and the impoverished Colony. A factory worker living in the latter, Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is unhappy with his life but he’s not sure why, because he’s happily married to a beautiful wife (Kate Beckinsale). Wanting more, he visits Rekall, a shop offering memory implants of fantastic adventures and everything goes sideways when he learns that the life he knew may actually have been implanted there.
If you’ve been living under a rock and weren’t aware that “Underworld” creator Len Wiseman’s new sci-fi action movie is a remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie of the same name, itself based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, then consider yourself lucky to be able to go into the movie without the baggage that comes with every single remake. While the movie directed by Paul Verhoeven was one of my favorite sci-fi action movies, I’ll freely admit it’s been a good ten years since I last saw it, and it seems perfectly fair that it would need some updating to work with modern audiences.
Mars has been completely removed from the equation in Wiseman’s take, instead separating the earth into two areas on opposite hemispheres with a massive transport called “The Fall” bringing people from one area to the other. The divide between the living conditions of the wealthy people of the UFB and the have-nots of the “Colony” has led to an uprising from a resistance group.
Much of this is explained in a foreword before we’re introduced to Farrell’s Doug Quaid in a dream sequence where he’s being chased and captured. These dreams have become more frequent forcing Doug to start thinking there should be more to his life. Little does he realize that a trip to Rekall to make his life more exciting will lead to the type of chases that have plagued his dreams. If you’ve seen the Verhoeven movie, you’ll already know some of the major twists and revelations at least from the first act set-up, but the changed environments and tone play a large part in keeping the movie from being a direct carbon copy.
From the get-go, it’s apparent how Colin Farrell gives his role far more weight and gravitas, rather than trying to mold himself into a Schwarzenegger-like ’90s action hero who delivers quips in between kills. Otherwise, Wiseman’s film is basically the same story transplanted into a different environment while handling the material in a far more serious manner that owes more to action-thrillers like “The Bourne Identity” than anything done by Verhoeven. That comparison comes from Doug’s search for identity that leads to a couple of moments borrowed directly from the first movie introducing Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne.
Once Doug gets to Rekall to escape from his drab life, the film is pretty much all action as we watch him being chased both on foot, in magnetic hover cars and even an elaborate elevator system. Once he meets Jessica Biel’s resistance fighter Melina (who is never mentioned by name) after travelling to the UFB, she joins in on the action while trying to find answers to his questions of identity.
The movie does lose something whenever things slow down for the characters to talk, since the screenplay co-written by Kurt Wimmer, a seasoned vet of futuristic action movies, is capable but not too flashy. That’s fine, since this is meant to be an action movie and Wiseman really has a good handle on how to make a quickly-paced movie that doesn’t just rehash what we’ve seen in other action movies.
Any good science fiction movie stands or falls based on its futuristic technology and at the movie’s core (quite literally) is the massive “Fall” that transports people from one side of the earth to the other. Some may wonder why so many people would have to travel between these two hemispheres on a daily basis and why security for such a commute is such a high-security ordeal. Imagine if the millions of commuters coming into big cities every day to work had to go through an enhanced TSA and customs security before riding the train, and one wonders why factories couldn’t be built in the Colony to save time and money.
Wiseman’s smartest decision may have been to cast his own wife Kate Beckinsale in the wife-from-hell role played by Sharon Stone in the original movie, the actress once again showing off what a bad-ass she can be as well as having the chance to deliver the one-liners some might be expecting, not that they’re necessarily done for laughs as much as to just make her that much tougher. Because Beckinsale is given a far more substantial role, this means Bryan Cranston’s Chancellor Cohaagan, the evil politician behind the separatist conditions on earth, takes a backseat, not appearing until the last half hour or so to reveal his masterplan. It doesn’t feel Cranston is really trying very hard to make any sort of impact in the role, maybe because he realizes how derivative the character is from other sci-fi villains.
The results are a movie more in the vein of Spielberg’s “Minority Report” than “Blade Runner,” although both movies influence the visuals, as does “The Fifth Element,” Will Smith’s “I Robot”–production designer Patrick Tatopoulos worked on that one, too–and even the “Star Wars” prequels. Elements of these movies can be seen in everything from the design of the robots and the magnetic cars to the production design of the United Federation of Britain and the Colony, vast sprawling mazes of domiciles and offices that stretch for miles into the sky. The UFB is more impressive in some ways because there are physical locations we can recognize underneath all the futuristic layering.
Both these locations, as well as the dead and irradiated No-Zone, are used to their fullest during the action scenes especially “The Fall” between the worlds which becomes the setting for the film’s enormous set piece climax. The last bit of conflict thrown into the epilogue is somewhat anti-climactic, but overall, it’s a satisfying if not groundbreaking action flick.
The Bottom Line:
What Len Wiseman’s “Total Recall” lacks in originality, it makes up for with some of the grittiest slam-bang action scenes you’re likely to see this summer, although the fun normally found in action flicks is lessened by the film’s more serious tone.