Film review: Total Recall

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

The updated Len Wiseman remake of Total Recall has arrived and while it gives story credit to the Philip K. Dick original We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, this is basically a remake of the 1990 Paul Verhoeven film. Most critics are panning the film using a variety of unimaginative “memory”-related puns, but it’s easiest just to say its about white people problems.

Let’s bitch it out…Full disclosure: Verhoeven’s original is not a perfect film – it’s cheesy, corny and suffers from a pretty flat performance by Ah-nold. On the flip side, it has some interesting ideas about class conflict, has highly memorable characters (Kuato!) and enjoyable setpieces.

Fast forward twenty-two years and the update is more-or-less the same film (right down to character names) and even nearly identical scenes in some cases. The action here all takes place on earth and while Colin Farrell is a step-up from a monosyllabic future Governor of California, the film is completely shrug-worthy. It’s far more concerned with white people running around and blowing sh*t up to try and get more power.  And so, without further ado, a list of 34 things that don’t work (and 3 that do) in the new Total Recall (spoilers ahead):

1. The stupid “dream sequence” that opens the film pretty much eliminates any chance Quaid isn’t really a spy
2. Chemical warfare has forced everyone to live in either the UK or Australia. Australia I get, but the UK is not isolated so how would it have survived?
3. For some reason the chemical warfare does not affect either location, despite neither being enclosed
4. All of humanity living in these two locations means that the most precious commodity is “physical space” – not food or natural resources
5. Interestingly food and natural resources do not seem to be an issue
6. The tunnel that connects the two is called The Fall…just read that over again
7. The Fall looks like a giant screw and it travels through the Earth’s core in 17 minutes to the other side…just read that over again
8. How could it possibly be energy conscious to bring factory workers from the Colony to the other side of the world every day? And if the Colony is supposed to be a worse place to live, wouldn’t the factories be there?
9. The Colony is basically just Bladerunner, including see-through raincoats, pyramid buildings and a neo-Toyko feel. It’s like someone took storyboards or still images from the Ridley Scott classic and just hit photocopy
10. The vast majority of people living in The Colony are ethnic minorities, primarily of Asian descent. The main characters in the film are all white
11. Rekall looks like a bank, a spa and a dojo got busy together
12. The arbitrary fact that Rekall is spelled with a ‘k’. But the movie title uses a ‘c’
13. Thanks for coming out for 2 minutes, John Cho (Blonde is not your colour, bro)
14. Despite the fun technology, including hand cell phones, robot police and smartboard fridges, interesting opportunities to envision the future remain boring: bullets are just bullets and people still drink beer at the local tavern
15. Kate Beckinsale’s Lori (after revealing her evil ways) suggests that someone like Colin Farrell’s Quaid would never get someone like her. Beckinsale is definitely smoking hot, but this is still Farrell we’re talking about

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

16. Bryan Cranston’s wig. Just, no
17. The “mask through the checkpoint” (a pale imitation of the same sequence in the original Total Recall) is a twenty second CGI effect that doesn’t really make sense
18. Jessica Biel as Melina. Just, no
19. The regular cars on the street that are apparently not magnetic like all of the cars in the freeway chase scene (why wouldn’t all cars be magnetic?)
20. The sense of space in the elevator chase sequence – somehow all of the elevator shafts of every building connect in a giant void several stories tall? How is it that Quaid and Melina nearly fall many, many stories to their deaths and then exit at street level? Where is that space exactly considering they’re in the middle of downtown? Are they actually in a TARDIS and the inside is bigger than the outside?
21. The entire convoluted sequence in which Bokeem Woodbine’s Harry tries to convince Quaid that he’s still at Rekall. Another scene lifted from the 1990 film, but without any attempt to make it a legitimate option. There’s no way Quaid is dreaming so this just feels like 3 excruciatingly long minutes
22. The idea that the hologram Quaid leaves for himself has “limited” abilities to answer questions, and then answers every single question he has
23. Immediately after all questions are answered, Jessica Biel’s Melina wakes up and confirms the hologram’s answers. So why couldn’t she have just answered them? What was the point of having the hologram at all?
24. The convoluted explanation for why Cranston’s Cohaagen wants to harm the people of the colony. Surely there’s an easier, more efficient way of getting what you want than that
25. Apparently in the future you can take the tube to Europe since they just hop onto the train and leave the UK to get to a “no-go” chemical warfare space
26. The need to always dress “rebels” in dreadlocks and cargo pants. It’s the laziest visual way to connote characters living on the fringe/outside the norm and it needs to stop
27. Patrol sentries in the “no-go” simply need to wear a mask. Apparently chemical warfare only affects the air?
28. And yet, the gas will remain conveniently outside of the building in the event a stronghold in the “no-go” space is attacked. Ah yes, this must be that smart mist everyone is talking about
29. Thanks for coming out for 5 minutes, Bill Nighy
30. How does Quaid catch up with The Fall machine considering it’s already left when he’s just leaving the “no-go” zone (which are clearly a great distance apart)?
31. Why would Cohaagen tag along on the mission if his robot army will do all the work for him?
32. Why are some of the robot police officers black and some are white? Are the white ones storm troopers?
33. Lori’s ability to survive the final explosion and her determination in pursuing Quaid right to the final reel (despite having no real incentive to do so)

And finally, 34: NO. FREAKING. KUATO!

The three things that do work?

  1. Kate Beckinsale’s kick-ass expanded role as Lori: Beckinsale may be the other one that’s enjoying herself
  2. The magnetic car chase scene (despite the ground level cars)
  3. The elevator chase scene (despite the space making no sense)

Sooo…basically go for a fun performance by Beckinsale and the gong-show, implausible action scenes (like Die Hard 4? Same director). Stay away if you want a fully realized future world that’s been thought through, a story that wasn’t built like an afterthought around action setpieces or a believable love interest who doesn’t have a high teeth to gum ratio. Or, if you want something more clever, insert some kind of “forgettable memory” joke here.

Total Recall is now playing in theaters

About cinephilactic

cinephilactic is a university contract instructor in Film Studies. He is an avid TV watcher, particularly science-fiction, fantasy and drama series. His favourite shows currently airing on TV include The Good Wife, Breaking Bad, Justified, Hannibal, Game Of Thrones and a smattering of shows on The CW. He has a tendency to "hate-watch" particular shows and likes to think that his sarcastic voice comes through in his reviews, though sometimes he's just being bitchy

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