Like the 1990 version of Total Recall, directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, the 2012 update is based on the 1966 Philip K. Dick short story We Can Remember it For You Wholesale. While I heard that this remake was more specifically rooted in the source material than the original was, that is not the case. The 2012 Total Recall is different than its predecessor in some significant ways, but it has much more to do with that film than Dick’s story. Because of the similarities, and intentional winks and nods at the earlier film, it’s impossible not to compare to two films. The update pales in comparison. While it gets off to a strong and exciting start, Total Recall 2012 drops it’s sci-fi concepts in favor of a conventional kill-or-be-killed action ending that leaves you feeling empty.

Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) is a factory worker dissatisfied with his life. He lives with his attractive wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) in a shabby apartment in The Colony. It is some time after World War 3 has taken place and there are only two habitable areas left on Earth. The Colony appears to be Australia, and the UFB (United Federation of Britain) comprises most of Europe. Workers from The Colony take a transport each day through the center of the Earth to work in UFB factories that produce synthetic police robots. Quaid has recurring dreams of a more exciting life, full of intrigue and shootouts, with a mysterious woman (Jessica Biel). Feeling like his life is in a rut, and confused by his strange dreams, Quaid decides to visit Rekall. Rekall promises to give people the life they wish they were living by implanting memories in their brains. Quaid wants to be a secret agent.

Just as in Dick’s story and the 1990 filmed version, Quaid’s life takes an unusual turn after the visit. He may really be a secret agent, his wife might not be his wife, the mysterious woman from his dream may be real, and he may not even be Doug Quaid. The action moves at a quick pace, as Quaid finds himself on the run from just about everyone he can think of. After Quaid discovers an evil plot, masterminded by Chancellor Vilos Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), that could destroy life as everyone knows it, the film falters. “Evil plot” storylines are a dime a dozen, and this one doesn’t offer anything new. Instead the film spirals into a myriad of action movie clichés and a never-ending climax.

What’s missing from the 2012 Total Recall is a reason to care about it all. We know very little about the world Quaid lives in. We know it’s crowded, we know people are struggling to get by, and we know the powers that be are corrupt. What we don’t know is anything personal.  We don’t get to know any of the citizens who live in The Colony or the UFB. Other than it being a conceptually bad thing, there is no real reason to care about the impending threat to society. What’s also missing from this remake is the fun of the original. I’m not saying this film should have tried to copy Verhoeven’s satirical style, but this film is so deadly serious it loses its fun by the end. 

And there’s no Mars. In the ’90 version, Cohaagen was cheating the citizens of the Martian colony out of clean air to breath, resulting in disfiguring mutations. Removing the interplanetary aspect wasn’t necessarily a bad idea in and of itself, but it wasn’t replaced with anything nearly as interesting. If the filmmakers wanted to distinguish the remake by omitting one of the key elements of the original’s story, they should have made sure the new ideas were equally (or more) compelling. Cohaagen leading a colonial invasion using robot warriors straight out of The Phantom Menaceleaves this Total Recall feeling pedestrian.

Director Len Wiseman (who also helmed the first two Underworld movies) keeps the first half taut, with some excellent chase scenes. Colin Farrell is a bit closer to the Everyman originally conceived by Dick in the source story. As the villainous Lori, Kate Beckinsale is genuinely threatening in her relentless pursuit of Quaid/Hauser. But ultimately all the best ideas in Total Recall are carried over from the original. The ’90 Totall Recall leaves the viewer wondering whether what they’ve seen was really happening to Schwarzenegger’s Quaid, or whether it really was all a memory implant. The story works just as well from either point of view. After watching the new one, in which the material is treated was far less ambiguity, I was so exhausted by the prolonged climatic action sequence that I didn’t even want to ponder such questions.
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Sherry Lipp
Sherry is a writer/blogger specializing in entertainment and food writing. You can find her gluten and grain-free food articles at scdforlife.com.

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