Home Reviews We review Total Recall – Lots of action, little depth

We review Total Recall – Lots of action, little depth

4 min read

It’s impossible to hate the new Total Recall remake. However, at the same time, sadly, you’re unlikely to feel much of anything about this “going through the motions” sci-fi adaptation – from Underworld and Die Hard 4 director Len Wiseman. Total Recall 2012 looks great and certainly isn’t insulting to its predecessor, but it comes across as completely without ambition or heart, borrowing wholesale from the likes of Blade Runner, I, Robot and Minority Report, and simply buffing up their influential visuals with the latest CGI wizardry. This said, you’ll probably enjoy Total Recall 2012 a lot more if you’ve never watched Paul Verhoeven’s flavoursome, idiosyncratic original.

As already mentioned, Total Recall 2012 thankfully doesn’t sneer at the original 1990 movie adaptation of Philip K Dick’s short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. Character names remain intact and a couple of signature moments from the first flick have survived, even if it’s in adapted form. The new film even maintains a claustrophobic approach to depicting future life, with events set after devastating chemical warfare has shrunk the world’s habitable zones down to two small hubs. Land has become humanity’s most valued resource, and the result is a world design that consists almost entirely of vertically orientated, chaotically clustered cubes. The art direction of Total Recall 2012 is one of the movie’s most impressive aspects, and I personally didn’t even miss the omission of a Mars setting from the film.

In terms of plot, our hero Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is dissatisfied with his life as a lowly factory worker, forced to commute every day from the grimy, poverty-stricken Colony (Australia) to the much more upmarket United Federation of Britain. This is made possible via The Fall, an elevator that travels through the centre of the Earth. Ignoring warnings from his wife (Kate Beckinsale) and friends, Doug heads to Rekall, a company that implants artificial memories. Things go horribly wrong, however, and Doug has to determine whether he’s trapped in his requested secret agent fantasy, or really an amnesiac government operative, whose Rekall visit has put both the authorities and rebels on his trail.

It all sounds good and well, but at this stage the film devolves into a video game platformer. It’s run, run, run, jump, jump, jump, as characters fling themselves from rooftop to rooftop, elevator shaft to elevator shaft, fighting and shooting along the way. Some of these scenes work well – the Maglev car chase sequence, and the anti-gravity moments are especial highlights – but you do wish there was a break for the characters, and audience, to catch their breath, and develop some kind of emotional connection.

You see, there’s little in the way of distinctive, sympathetic characters to latch onto in Total Recall. Farrell’s Quaid is a cookie-cutter hero, who is even deprived of that great moment in the Arnie original where Doug is addressed by a recording of his gleefully treacherous former self. Beckinsale is fun in relentless villain mode but Bryan Cranston and Bill Nighy, as the film’s two big ideological opponents, are wasted.

Jessica Biel tries her “sad eyes” hardest to bring some heart to the film, playing a resistance fighter and the woman of Quaid’s dreams. However, she’s also a bit bland. It’s pretty indicative of Total Recall 2012’s approach that Doug’s love interests here are two interchangeably lithe, gun-toting brunettes – one with ponytail and one without. For the record blonde Sharon Stone and Puerto Rican-descent Rachel Ticotin were the female leads in 1990.

So yeah, don’t look for fast-talking taxi drivers, sassy midget hookers and vagina-head psychic mutants to snare your interest and affections this time around. In keeping with contemporary trends emphasising “credibility”, Total Recall 2012 strips out all the cartoonishness and undeniably over-the-top aspects of Verhoeven’s film. And frankly the new release becomes less interesting for doing so. Hell, even the violence has been toned down. Here 50 – 70% of Doug’s pursuers are android cops, which makes dismembering them a bloodless, guilt-free and distinctly PG-13 affair.

The end result is a film that becomes increasingly dull and generic. Worst of all, Total Recall 2012 plays down the ambiguity of events. Are things real or an amazingly realistic implanted memory? The original movie never let that issue drop, ending with an unusual fade to white. Here it’s whittled down to a couple of throwaway comments.

Total Recall 2012 is a breathless, shiny amusement for a couple of hours but you’ll walk out of the cinema with absolutely nothing on your mind. And this is a pity for one of the most highly anticipated sci-fi releases of the year.

Last Updated: October 1, 2012


  1. jonty

    October 1, 2012 at 11:41

    It’s not impossible to hate this film, because I do. With a passion. It’s the sort of bland, featureless, cynical by the numbers filmmaking that is killing the movies. It has no personality. It is stupid and humourless. I worry about a world where a talentless gimp like Len Wiseman is allowed to make movies while Dredd fails and will probably never spawn a sequel


    • James Francis

      October 1, 2012 at 11:57

      I’m still holding out hope for Dredd. But I agree – the general state of and audience reaction towards sci-fi movies is quite dismal.


  2. James Francis

    October 1, 2012 at 11:56

    I’m curious what of the short story they actually used, given that the producers punted that as an angle. From what I can see so far, this film largely lifted a few elements from the original film, but little to nothing from the written version that weren’t in place in Verhoeven’s classic already.


    • Noelle Adams

      October 1, 2012 at 12:14

      Very little to none, I think (having not read the short story). Despite their claims/promises, they really just rehashed the 1990 film.


      • James Francis

        October 1, 2012 at 13:47

        Sounds like it. Had they followed the short story more, it would have been hard to rehash much of the Nineties version. I thought they might have done so with the ending, but if the ‘is it a dream or real’ theme is running in this, they cannot go that route. That is actually one part of the story that is unique to the films.


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