Theatrical Review: Total Recall

In the late 21st century, much of the planet has become uninhabitable due to global conflicts. Two main land masses remain that can support a population; the United Federation of Britain, and the land previously known as Australia, but now known as The Colony. Both land masses are connected by a mode of transportation that passes through the planet called The Fall, and as one would expect, due to the population, habitable land is at a premium.

Doug Quaid is a man who lives in The Colony but commutes daily to the UFB for his job, which is the manufacturing of a mechanized peacekeeping force. Doug is married, but lately he’s been having some troubling dreams which indicate a life different from the one he knows, a life that was filled with some harrowing adventure and intrigue and with a woman different from his wife. Doug’s a little frustrated and wants a little more than what he’s getting now and so he makes the attempt to go to a company called Rekall, that specializes in creating new virtual memories for people. Doug chooses the life of a secret agent, but thanks to a wrinkle in the way Rekall works, this backfires because in actually Doug was a secret agent in his life, even though he doesn’t still know the full details.

When this is awakened in Doug, it puts him in jeopardy and now Doug is on the run to find out the real truth, while in the background, conflict looms between the UFB and The Colony.

That’s the basic premise to Total Recall the latest film from the director of the first two Underworld movies, Len Wiseman. It’s also a re-make of a movie of the same name from director Paul Verhoeven starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and both are adaptations of the Philip K. Dick short story, “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale.” Now I really enjoyed the original film (even though it has it’s problems) and I’ve not really been a fan of Wiseman’s Underworld movies, so while I thought the trailer looked decent, I was keeping my expectations for this on the low side. For myself, I was pleasantly surprised and actually prefer the remake over the original, though don’t get me wrong, the original is still a fun movie.

Wiseman’s version looks fantastic and is obviously paying big homage to another film adaptation of the work of Philip K. Dick, Blade Runner. I know in the party of people that I saw this with, a few were a little disappointed about this aspect of the film’s look, but honestly, it just didn’t bother me in the slightest and more I thought it made total sense with the revised premise to the film. The film’s action sequences are quite well done, with some particular standouts being Quaid’s battles with his “wife” and a pretty thrilling chase sequence involving your literal flying cars. Wiseman keeps the whole thing moving at a fast clip, and while there are a few holes here and there, and a few stretches of credibility (the most glaring being a fight at the end between Cohaagen, the leader of the UFB, and Quaid), I still had a great time with this.

What really stood out to me though was Colin Farrell who plays the part of Doug Quaid, taking over the part originally performed by Schwarzenegger. Farrell brings an extremely solid likability to the character right from the start, and has much more of an everyman quality to him than Schwarzenegger does. It’s not a knock against Schwarzenegger’s performance in the original, that was all well and good for it’s time and fitted Schwarzenegger screen personality. When Quaid’s past is discovered at Rekall and he’s put in jeopardy, he reacts accordingly (in a really nice little action set piece) but at the end he displays that slight little bit of nuance at being shocked at what he just did and how he’s picking up all of this naturally. Further in the film, Quaid has a conversation with himself (from an interactive recording) that just takes things a step further and really allows you to see the differences that he’s put into both characters. It’s been awhile since Colin Farrell has headed up a film like this and it’s just really nice to see him back and doing some pretty darn good work.

Farrell’s backed up with an impressive group of support. Jessica Biel plays Melina, the girl who’s from Quaid’s dreams, but who in actuality is the lieutenant to Mathias (Bill Nighy) the leader of the resistance against Cohagen and the UFB. I’ve not been much of a fan of Biel’s work in the past, but here, I think she and Farrell have some pretty nice chemistry that has it’s own subtleties to it in the midst of all of the big action. The great Bryan Cranston (of Breaking Bad fame) plays the part of Cohaagen, and Cranston is obviously having a good time playing this villainous part, even getting to get his hands dirty in his own physical fight with Quaid near the film’s end (though as mentioned above, I think this fight does stretch things a little bit).

Really standing out for me in the support area though are Kate Beckinsale as Lori, Quaid’s “wife” who’s been tasked by Cohaagen to keep watch over Quaid, and Bokeem Woodbine as Harry, Quaid’s best friend on his job in his new manufactured life. Beckinsale is certainly no stranger to this type of action having played in the Underworld films (Len Wiseman is her husband). I’m not really a fan of those movies, so I wasn’t necessarily expecting much of her here, but I was quite surprised, she’s got a real venality that shows through and it certainly makes the fight sequences pretty convincing. Bokeem Woodbine really stands out in a sequence where Quaid is trying to be convinced that he’s not really out in the midst of all of this action, but still in the confines of Rekall. This was something that was done in the original film as well, but the way that Woodbine plays it, it has a lot more gravity here and it’s, at least for me, quite a tense bit of business.

Some will probably be dismayed by the fact that this version is rated PG-13 over the original’s R rating, lacking the original’s more bloody violence. Some might also be disappointed with the change in plot that takes out the whole aspect of going to Mars with Mars and it’s mutated society being the object of Cohaagen’s plans. But honestly, I thought that the changes that Len Wiseman and screenplay writers Kurt Wimmer (hopefully some will remember Wimmer’s terrific film Equilibrium) and Mark Bomback made sense and worked well carrying a lot of little “nods” to the original peppered throughout the film. While my expectations were low at the start, I was still expecting to have a pretty good time with this. Total Recall, though exceeded those expectations and I ended up having a great time instead and certainly look forward to seeing this again down the road. For me, this surpassed the original, but it doesn’t replace it by any means, I think there’s room enough for both versions to be out there.