Review: Total Recall

Posted August 3rd, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Total Recall acts more as a re-imagination of the original story “We Can Remember it for you Wholesale” by Philip K Dick than a complete remake of the 1990 film. There are some nods to that one, and certainly it shares the basis and themes, but the latest version stands on its own fairly well. Despite a number of issues Total Recall is an enjoyable ride that takes advantage of improved special effects and the presentation of an intriguing high-tech future despite the crumbling of the world around the two remaining territories.

Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) has grown tired of his meager existence working on the factory line for “Synthetics” – artificial intelligence enforcers being built into an army for The Chancellor (Bryan Cranston). Quaid’s recurring dream leaves him feeling like there is a huge void in his life and curiosity regarding “Rekall” – a company that provides a service that makes a person feel as if they are actually in their fantasy scenario – leads him to take the plunge despite some reluctance and warnings from others.

The question that runs throughout the film is whether the experience being had from that point on is reality (essentially having been activated through the process) or what was implanted in his mind at the Rekall facility. Immediately after the process initiates he finds himself being hunted by the police and the woman he thought to be his wife while not knowing whether to believe he was actually a secret agent before The Chancellor gave him new memories in an attempt to infiltrate the “resistance”.

The film does an admirable job of leaving it up to the viewer to decide whether the circumstances being faced are real or just in Quaid’s head. A number of solid action sequences – and fun performances by Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel – fuel the events as the mystery and his place within the conflict unfolds.

It does retain some of the cheesiness of the original movie though it’s more limited here than I remember in the 1990 version. That may primarily be due to the visuals which are understandably now much more convincing. A few throwaway one-liners are to be expected and they don’t really drag things down though they stand out from otherwise generally more serious dialogue.

There are certainly a number of plot holes but they’re not overly frustrating and can be dismissed relatively easily. Ultimately that would depend on how much one chooses to analyze from scene to scene – the story moves at a quick enough pace that nothing really sits long enough to become a concern. Beckinsale’s character though was everywhere. No matter where the action was taking place she found a way to be in the thick of it even if she was just shown somewhere else that would prevent her from being a step ahead as she always seemed to be.

The tech in the film is really cool – particularly the phones and the manner in which video of those on them was displayed. There were sequences where things got bogged down but for the most part the futuristic ideas were pretty neat to see.

Total Recall isn’t a great movie but it is a fairly enjoyable one. The story is coherent enough to keep one guessing whether the main character’s experience is real or a fantasy, the action is constructed well and fight scenes have impact (Beckinsale and Biel going at each other was fun), and the visual take on the future is refreshing and well presented. It’s a solid summer film that delivers entertainment value without really attempting to be anything beyond just that.

Rating: ★★★☆☆