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Total Recall Review

By Joe Lozito

What's Mind is Yours


As you may recall, the Philip K. Dick short story, "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" was loosely adapted into the 1990 Arnold Schwarznegger gem "Total Recall". With the Austrian Oak coming off a series of super-violent 80s hits like "The Running Man", "Commando" and "Predator", and director Paul Verhoeven riding the success of the ultra-violent "RoboCop", much of Mr. Dick's original story was left by the wayside in favor of violence and special effects. And now another adaptation of "We Can Remember It..." is brought to the screen with Les Wiseman ("Underworld") at the helm, and Colin Farrell is stepping into the mentally confused character of Douglas Quaid. What this new film has most in common with the 1990 version is the need to put the word "loose" in front of "adaptation".

In this "Recall" reboot, Earth of the future has been all but wiped out by chemical warfare. Only two nations remain: the United Federation of Britain and "The Colony" (essentially Australia). Having the two remaining inhabitable landmasses located on opposite ends of the planet poses logistical issues (for one thing, the commute's a bitch). But our plucky future-selves have overcome this obstacle by boring a tunnel through the planet and establishing transportation from one end to the other via a huge cylinder called, ominously but appropriately, "The Fall". It's a pretty brilliant setup for a sci-fi future.

In fact, nearly everything about the future in this "Recall" is wonderfully realized. From the mobile phones (they give new meaning to the term Palm Pilot) to the bioluminescent tattoos to the rabbit warren of adjacent apartments to the multilevel highway system. The production design here deserves to be discussed in the same conversation with "Minority Report" (also based on a PKD story), "The Fifth Element" and, of course, "Blade Runner". That's high praise. And it's the highest praise I can give the film because the script, by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback, fails to live up to the physical setting.

As in the original film, factory worker Douglas Quaid, has a beautiful wife (Wiseman spouse and constant leading lady, Kate Beckinsale) and a seemingly ordinary existence. One night, plagued by dreams of a mysterious woman (Jessica Biel) and unable to sleep, Doug visits "Rekall", a shady purveyor of implanted memories. No sooner do they start the procedure than the police come barging in, guns blazing. Has Doug unlocked a hidden personality, or is this the Rekall implant at work?

That was the central question that made the 1990 "Recall" so much fun, and it's meant to sustain this one too. But, despite the efforts of the filmmakers (and you can feel the straining), there's never a time when you feel Doug's cognitive dissonance taking its toll. As much as Colin Farrell has impressively matured over the years, it's tough to pull off a character whose one memorable trait is that he doesn't remember who he is, and the script simply lets him down. Meanwhile, Ms. Beckinsale barrels through the film with her typical action-hero-as-fetish-object scowl like it's "Underworld 5". And Ms Biel has even less to do, alternately running, punching and bleeding.

This "Recall" isn't a remake of the 1990 version - there's no robo-cabs, no pulling marbles out of noses , no "get your ahhss to Mahhrs" - nor is it a direct adaptation of the short story. It takes off from Mr. Dick's material and goes in yet another direction - which is, again, a testament to the brilliance of the original idea. And yet, despite the promise of the opening hour - the cityscapes, the future-tech, the nods to the original film - the ending still devolves into plot-hole-jumping hokum, cobbled together via Mr. Wiseman's typical hackneyed direction.

It's one thing to suspend disbelief, it's another to have it thrown down a tunnel through the center of the Earth. Mr. Dick's stories may have been farfetched, but they were grounded in ideas, not explosions and gunfire. Then again, it's possible the filmmakers who crafted this film's finale don't know Dick.

What did you think?

Movie title Total Recall
Release year 2012
MPAA Rating PG-13
Our rating
Summary You'll want to remember the sci-fi futurescape but forget the plot in this "Recall" reboot.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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