We’ve so often been told what the future’s going to look like that I’m beginning to think it’s going to be pretty boring when I first get in my flying car. I’ll have seen everything there is to do in one by then. And I’m still waiting on the hoverboard that Back To The Future promised me would arrive this year. One thing I’ve yet to see in the future is a device for implanting memories into my head, so this is exciting. Total Recall , set in that familiar future that looks a bit like Tokyo at night time tells me it could go horribly wrong though. Damn!
Name sound as familiar as the setting? Yes, this is the big-budget reboot of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle. This is a movie much beloved by many… but me? I’ve never seen it. OK, lambast me all you like, but as I said in my Expendables 2 review, I was never really a fan of movies from that era. That and I was a bit young at the time to care too much. Does this influence my review? Well, it may do, as I can look at this movie objectively with a clean slate and not be sucked into the Reboot Zone debate (again and again)
This incarnation of Total Recall takes place in the late 21st Century where us Brits have seemingly survived a toxic holocaust to create the United Federation of Britain (UFB), and through some amazing feat of engineering, have linked ourselves with Australia (called “The Colony”) by drilling through the middle of the Earth. The Colony is essentially the ghetto of the UFB. A bit like Australia is the UK’s poor cousin… with beaches… and surfer girls and guys… and better weather. Damn. The plot revolves around Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) – a drone of The Colony who’s fed up with his hum-drum life. So he goes to Rekall – a memory creation company to spice things up by getting some espionage memories implanted. And naturally, things go wrong and he finds himself on the run from the Government. Cue a spy story with lots of twists and turns.
It may sound a bit confusing, but the film copes with the plot’s convulsions well. What’s more confusing is why in future Britain and Australia no-one speaks with a British or Australian accent. Seemingly, in less than 100 years, we’re all going to speak with a US accent. Even the Irish Colin Farrell and British Kate Beckinsale lose their native tongue. But we are not to reason why…
Visually, the film is a treat for the eyes. I know the future will be dark and neon-tinged, but these future countries look like Tokyo… on smack. A true cyber-punk sheen has been applied ala Bladerunner, or if you’re into video games, Deus Ex. The only gripe I have with the visuals is Len Wiseman‘s (director) obsession with screen flares. These are digitally generated, fake lens flares. They’re done ad nauseum and I have no idea what they accomplish. Some would argue “to look nice”, but by flare 15, at ten minutes into the film, I was over them. I’m also not entirely sure what to make of a scene where we see Farrell drop into the London we’re all familiar with, complete with wheeled cars that look remarkably 2012… If someone could chime in in the comments and clarify it, that’d be grand.
What of the acting? No real complaints here. Farrell is a bankable actor in an action film. The genre doesn’t really require an actor to run the gamut of emotions over a film’s running time. Similarly, Beckinsale and Jessica Biel are serviceable in their roles. There’s nothing outstanding about either, and Beckinsale‘s heavily made-up eyes in “mean girl stare” mode got old pretty fast. Although she comes across as a fine action woman (and who wouldn’t after three unnecessary Underworld sequels), you can’t help but feel she’s becoming a very one-dimensional actress, much in the same way as Mila Jovovich. And both of their husbands direct the money-making franchises in which they star… A coincidence or correlation?
And finally… what of my old friend, the plot? Overall: great concept. The premise, as I’m sure you’re aware if you’ve seen the trailers / the original, is that Quaid comes to question who he is. Is he an outlaw? Or is he still in fact sitting in the memory implantation machine at Rekall? Make no mistake, this is no new plot tool. Films like Vanilla Sky and eXistenZ have both employed the tactic and The Matrix opened with the premise of reality vs. illusion. But it’s done well. I found myself constantly looking out for signs to try and figure out whether he was or wasn’t in reality before the film revealed the answer.
Having said that, the final act started to feel forced and it appeared that the plot had run out of steam but was being dragged kicking and screaming to a longer run time. It’s here that the film fell down slightly for me, and no amount of lens flares could startle me into remaining alert. It finished satisfyingly enough, but that final road was an arduous one to trek.
With my inability to compare this version of Total Recall to what has gone before, I’ve got to say that I enjoyed what I saw. It’s a futuristic action / thriller – nothing more, nothing less. The first 2/3 of the film make for a great cinematic experience; albeit one with some rather one dimensional female leads. Although Farrell probably isn’t an Arnie, I don’t think that was his, or Len Wiseman‘s, intention to begin with.
However, if you’re really attached to the 1990 original, I don’t know what the film offers for you. Maybe you’d benefit from a trip to Rekall, so you can have those cherished memories dashed, or at least temporarily forgotten. And whilst you’re there can you book me in? Not to forget this version of Total Recall… it’s just that I don’t want to keep clinging to these hopes of a hoverboard popping up in the next three months.