Films/Theater Reviews — 02 August 2012
Total Recall (2012): A Movie Review


Listen, if a director and studio choose to shoot a remake of an already successful and memorable film, they are already at a disadvantage. From the moment the first trailer is released, longtime and casual fans will be taking note of what doesn’t work for them, making unfavorable comparisons to the original as people in general despise when other folks toy with something they hold sacred. “Underworld” director Len Wiseman was certainly under similar pressure as he was approached to re-create 1990′s “Total Recall.” From its star Arnold Schwarzenegger to its brutally violent yet delightfully campy direction by Paul Verhoeven, the original is a literal juggernaut in the science fiction-action lexicon of American films. Sadly, like many of the reboots that have preceded it, 2012′s “Total Recall” fails to make the same impact as the original, although it does attempt to bring a fresh perspective to the premise, with mixed results.

The 2012 iteration stars Colin Farrell (Alexander, Daredevil) as Doug Quaid, the factory working everyman who longs for adventure in his boring life. And after a visit to the ominous “Rekall” facility, his wish is granted but with some death defying results. To his credit, Farrell humanizes the character through some intriguing and harrowing scenes, showing off the acting chops that made him an acceptable replacement for the aforementioned Schwarzennegger. In this bleak take on the future, apartment buildings are crowded and stacked atop each other like concrete slabs and the rain seems to constantly be falling. And for some reason, perhaps indicative of our present relationship with China, this future world seems to have an all encompassing Asian presence- from the signs, the bars that Quaid visits, and the people traveling in riverboats. The futuristic world also seems to embrace technology to a greater extent than previously thought to be possible. Refrigerators with computer screens and flat screen television monitors that appear literally everywhere show a world with increased dependency on electronics. But these small and often overlooked props helped me enjoy the bleak nature of this distant future space.

Of note is the performance of Kate Beckinsale (Underworld, Vacancy) as Quaid’s wife Lori, (made famous by Sharon Stone in the original) who once again shows off her range as an actress and as an action star. Her character’s agility and her intensity in her fight scenes make Beckinsale a true asset to the film. Not to mention, she’s insanely sexy to boot. Jessica Biel (The Rules of Attraction, The Illusionist) capably plays the second female lead Melina, and is provided nearly as much screen time as Beckinsale, making this version of ‘Recall’ very female friendly.

The 2012 version of ‘Total Recall’ suffers from many of the trappings of our current cinematic world. The negative laundry list must start with the sheer amount of nonstop, and often over-extended action sequences. Once the familiar setup with Douglas Quaid/Hauser is underway, we are almost relentlessly sucked into an endless loop of chases both in flying cars and on foot, which frankly became tiresome after the first ten minutes of each scene. Each of these scenes would have been better served with severely less screen time. Though the selling point of the film is its action sequences, these were neither memorable nor particularly eye catching. Instead, they seemed simply to be filler.

Moreover, CGI used here is literally mind-numbing. The opening of the film provides some great futurist and dystopian visuals, despite the fact that it seems many of the ideas are borrowed directly from Blade Runner- a not uncommon trait for most science fiction films post 1982, which utilize Ridley Scott’s brilliant landscape. Throughout the film however, there lies a sad lack of practical set pieces for the eyes to feast on. Instead we are inundated with a constant clutter on the screen. In fact, whenever said action scenes were taking place I found myself having to wade through the computer imagery to see the characters making their way through one of many situations. Even many of the long shots were difficult to distinguish because of the unnecessary amount of visual depictions being shown at once. Understandably this is an action movie in 2012 and it was practical for special effects to be utilized out of necessity. But the usage here felt like it was relied upon too greatly, and reeked of overkill.

Additionally, the reboot of ‘Total Recall’ is rated PG-13, compromising many of the visceral moments that made the original so fantastic. When you make an action flick that calls for the killing of bad guys you cannot have a PG-13 rating. Movies such as this are given this rating for one reason, money. If you rate a flick R, the studios lose out on dollars from the underage market. The PG-13 rating pretty much guarantees a movie’s violence will be tamed down tremendously. And as such, in this version of ‘Recall,’ whenever a potentially bloody encounter is about to transpire, the camera seems to cut away at the last minute. Similarly, if someone is shot by a gun or dispatched at close range, absolutely no blood is shown, which certainly lessens the effect of the violent act.

It’s a shame that beyond the few surface level aspects, I could not find more to enjoy about the film. Fans of the original like myself will find plenty of Easter Egg call backs which may pay tribute, but could just as easily be making fun of its campiness. Be on the lookout for a “lady of the night” with a few extra appendages. The unnecessary amount of CGI coupled with convoluted and overlong action scenes did a huge disservice to the film as a whole. Director Len Wiseman has a great film in him and could easily enter the level of a Zack Snyder with the right script and cinematography. But for now, we are left with just a few cool moments, and way too much, meh. 

- Jay Rubin

“Total Recall (2012)” is rated PG-13, starring Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, and Jessica Biel, has a runtime of 118 minutes, and is in theaters everywhere Friday, August 3rd.

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