Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
Total Recall (2012)
Back in 1990, director Paul Verhoeven and his screenwriters gave us an incredible adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” that was a highly-entertaining experience with a good balance of story and action. 22 years later, we are faced with another telling of the story (it’s hard to call it a remake as, while there are several similar elements, it has a different plot running through it) with a different cast, a different crew, and modern effects, so now we not only get to see how it measures up to the original, but also how it measures up as a film of its own.
Taking place in the future where there are only two inhabitable areas (Australia and part of Europe) on the Earth thanks to global warfare, the film tells the story of Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), a factory worker who is looking to escape the monotony of his life. He hears of a service called “Rekall” that gives you artificially implanted memories of anything you want, so, despite warnings from his co-worker, Harry (Bookeem Woodbine), Doug goes to have the procedure done, opting to get memories of being a secret agent implanted.
However, something goes terribly wrong. The memories don’t take because there are already similar memories existing in his head. This is where Doug’s life begins to spiral out of control as the police begin to chase him, his wife (Kate Beckinsale) tries to kill him, and he discovers that he might not be who he thought he was. Now on the run, he must find out his true identity and discover his link to The Resistance, a group fighting against the rule of Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), the man who is desperate to capture Doug before he can expose anything he might remember from his past.
Right off the bat, I have to say that this does not stand up to the original 1990 film that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the main reason for that is that it wasn’t able to accomplish what the original had done so well, that is, finding a good balance between the story and action. With 22 years in between films, technology has obviously advanced in the field of special effects, and the filmmakers behind this new version wanted to make sure we knew that.
The whole reason this version seems to have been made was as a showcase for the special effects, which the filmmakers unfortunately decided to let rule over the story. As I mentioned, the story has several similar elements when it comes to the character of Doug Quaid, so there aren’t really any surprises to be had there if you’ve already seen the original film. However, the new elements added to it show that they really didn’t want to put much effort into coming up with an engaging plot, and this is despite having such sci-fi talent as Kurt Wimmer, Dan O’Bannon, and Ronald Shusett working on it (the latter two had even worked on the original).
The seemingly endless action sequences are really what end up dragging it down. They go on for such a long time, and are so frequent, that they merely end up making the film monotonous and rather dull to sit through. When they do decide to take a break from the action, it’s to give us speedy updates on the plot before plunging ahead into the next action sequence.
You may recall that the original had had an interesting plot involving Doug going to Mars, finding out about his role in the resistance, and trying to break Cohaagen’s hold over the people. This update merely changes Cohaagen into someone trying to take over the only other inhabitable area in the world, making him no more interesting than a real estate tycoon. In certainly doesn’t help that he isn’t seen in person until the last 30 minutes of the film, leading one to wonder why they would bother getting someone as great as Bryan Cranston (from TV’s “Breaking Bad”) to play him. It’s a great casting choice, he’s just extremely underutilized.
The film comes to us from director Len Wiseman, who is mainly known for the “Underworld” films, which have been going straight downhill lately. However, he was also responsible for “Live Free or Die Hard,” which was a decent action film. It’s unfortunate that he allowed this thing to go so overboard with its chase sequences, fights, and explosions. An update in the effects department should have complimented the story, not taken it over. What we end up with is a forgettable, monotonous reimagining that was wholly unnecessary. 2/4 stars.