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Movie Review: Total Recall

By Bob Garver 

The 2012 version of “Total Recall” is a remake that will go down in history as an example of how Hollywood usually screws up remakes. The 1990 original had Arnold Schwarzenegger, a twisty plot, a post-apocalyptic setting, lots of chasing and shooting, and a host of quirky sci-fi elements that made it distinctive. The new version trades Arnold for Colin Farrell, the twists are no longer surprising, the sets are ugly, and the imaginative elements are few and far between. There is still a lot of chasing and shooting, but it’s as soulless as the rest of the movie.

The casting of Colin Farrell in the Arnold Schwarzenegger role gets the movie off on the wrong foot. Granted, the part is written so generically that any actor would struggle to have much of a presence. Still, when was the last time anyone got excited at the prospect of seeing a Colin Farrell movie? And I know it’s possible to give a half-decent performance in this movie because Kate Beckinsale does it in a supporting performance that you’ll remember as a sort of second lead.

Douglas Quaid (Farrell) lives in The Colony, an impoverished community that is one of only two inhabitable places on Earth. The other is the slightly better-off United Federation of Britain, connected to The Colony by a tunnel that goes through the center of the Earth. He’s happy with his wife (Beckinsale), but miserable with his mundane factory job, miserable that the UFB won’t share their resources with The Colony, and miserable that he’s having a recurring dream where he needs to save a mysterious woman (Jessica Biel). He learns of a program called Recall that implants memories in people’s brains so it will seem like they’ve led fun or exciting lives. He thinks maybe this will help him cope with his situation.

There’s some sort of malfunction with the program, and soon Quaid is wanted for treason. It seems the Recall program has discovered that he is a spy who recently had his memory erased. His wife turns out to be an undercover agent working for UFB President Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston). Apparently Quaid had been working with the woman from his dreams to stop an evil plot by Cohaagen to destroy The Colony and claim all of the planet’s livable space for the UFB. Now he has to try and save The Colony with an unreliable memory, and on top of that he’s not even sure if what he’s experiencing is real or part of the Recall process.

I kept looking for my favorite elements of the original film. I never saw the freaky robotic cab driver, the resistance leader undercover as a man’s stomach, or the characters’ gross inability to handle Mars’s gravity. Actually, I missed Mars entirely. The remake takes place on two Earth locations, both of which are eyesores. Everything from buildings to vehicles to gadgets is made up of ugly, unconvincing special effects. The only original elements of note are the planet-burrowing elevator and a cell phone that gets implanted directly into the hand. There is one extremely memorable element from the Schwarzenegger version that I will concede is rightfully retained for the remake, though I don’t want to get into trouble for revealing her identity.

The easy joke to make is that I wish I could forget “Total Recall”. In fact the film is so uninspired and uninteresting that it’s pretty forgettable as it is. Kate Beckinsale is admittedly a high point (I couldn’t help but root for Quaid to get back with her instead of hooking up with the much duller Jessica Biel), but she can’t save this mess. “Total Recall” wasn’t crying out to be remade, and it definitely didn’t need to be handled with such lifelessness.

One and a Half Stars out of Five

“Total Recall” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity, and language. Its running time is 118 minutes.

Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu.