For those of you counting, or old enough to remember, it's been 22 years since Arnie told himself to "get your ass to Mars." Those who do recall (sorry) Paul Verhoven's OTT interpretation of the short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale may find themselves smirking as the beginning credits flash up on the screen - "Original Films presents Total Recall." Original? Hah! Another stale cash-in from a "fresh out of ideas Hollywood" more like!....
And you'd be both right AND wrong. As a film that isn't compared to either its original source material or the 1990 Schwarzenegger-starrer, this is an average, run-of-the-mill Summer blockbuster that follows all the rules for popcorn-punters and ticks all the necessary boxes - sexy stars, big action sequences, good effects, ludicrous-but-easy-to-follow plot all rolled into an enjoyable 2 hours running time.
What is evident whilst watching Len Wiseman's fourth foray into directing, is that alot of time has been spent in discussions about what the future would look like. It wouldn't be surprising to find out if there was a "think tank" (not unlike Spielberg used in creating the look and feel of Minority Report's world) used here for Total Recall - but more about Minority Report later. The "phone in the palm of your hand" (a genius idea and so desirable) along with Police "energy harness guns" and essentially a skyscraper-sized lift that runs through the Earth's core between the films two locations, are believable but also breath-taking at the same time. The hover cars have been done before (still not at Minority Report just yet!...) but with the storyline stating that Earth has, through its ignorance, misuse and wars, has depleted most of its habitable land, thus housing has built upwards and the hover cars can magnetically float above and below the raised "roads."
Now, for those that are familiar with the previous efforts/incarnations of Doug Quaid's "who the hell am I?" exploits, there is alot of changes to deal with. In a refreshing, and somewhat surprising turn of events, in this tentpole Summer Blockbuster, there is NO America! We have the UFB (United Federation of Britain which contains the UK and Europe) and The Colonies (Australia). A tunnel that runs through the Earth's core that links them via a massive lift is what the "downtrodden workers" of The Colonies have to use to keep the UFB's in the lifestyle they have become accustomed too which is home to the films grand-ish finale. Up to, and including that point, Wiseman's version sets itself apart by trying the more recent favoured style of "grittier" film making. Gone are the jokes, wisecracks, one-liners and absurd feel and in are the handheld camera shake, moody looks and tortured souls trying to fathom out there place in life. Farrell may act the pants off of Schwarzenegger, but with his turns in Horrible Bosses and In Bruges, it's clear that he could have been given and easily pulled off a little light relief to increase the films enjoyment levels. He does hold the film together but for the most part, it is he and Beckinsdale that share the responsibility of not only moving the ridiculously-fast-paced story ever-forward, but keep you engaged throughout. She as his "wife" has a much more expanded role and easily replaces Sharon Stone that qualified for "a divorce" back in 1990 and takes up the role of the original Quaid hunter filled by Michael Ironside.
There are some nods to the original cinematic adventure - look out for the "two weeks" lady at the border control and of course the three breasted call girl that makes Quaid wish he had three hands - but that's your lot. It seems that there are two other movies that have more than a nod, or passing resemblance, to. The area of The Colonies is straight out of Blade Runner - all rain, neon signs, Asian crowds, see-through umbrellas and an overall feel of disrepair, decay and despondency. The UFB on the flipside is straight out of Minority Report - an expanse of impressive architecture linked by multiple levels of roads that have thousands of fast hover cars zipping across them with suited Police-types that carry amongst their arsenal non-lethal weaponry - even to the point where the cinematography matches that of Spielberg's sci-fi hit with lens flare abounding throughout scenes filmed in that location. This dies tend to somewhat draw the comparisons away from the original Total Recall but to replace it with two recognised classics such as Blade Runner AND Minority Report, wasn't maybe such a clever idea! They even have a sequence where a confused and weary Farrell sits tickling the ivories of a piano in exactly the same way that a confused and weary Ford does in the unicorn dream scene from Blade Runner! Brave, bizarre but blindingly foolish.
Better than it should be due in part to Farrell but especially Beckinsdale - all others are wasted (Cranston and Nighy) or sketchy (Biel) - and the impressive detail in the tech side of things, it could have done with abit more tongue-in-cheek than stares-into-distance plus it could have done with a huge dollop of "is this real or rekall?" rather than action sequence after action sequence.
UK release date: 29.08.12