For a film from a studio with a name like Original Film, Total Recall struggles to bring very many new ideas to the table. As the remake of a film adaption of a short story by the prolific science fiction writer Philip K. Dick this isn’t exactly a surprise, but it does serve to strengthen the position of those who claim that Hollywood as an institution is on the wane and is suffering from a death of imagination. However, I hope to be able to discuss the merits and problems of this century’s version of the story without comparing the three excessively.
The film opens in the mind of our hero, Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell). We watch him dream about a brunette woman who appears to be helping him to escape from a nondescript medical/military facility, but he gets (re)captured and wakes up beside his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) who is happy to comfort him after his disturbing, and recurring, dream. After a mundane day at work on The Colony (planet Earth has suffered massive chemical damage and now only two territories remain habitable; the ruling United Federation of Britain, and the somewhat subservient Colony, in present day Australia, where many from the UFB work. These two regions are connected by a shaft through the core of our plant known as ‘The Fall’) Doug decides to pay a visit to REKALL, a somewhat controversial memory altering facility that members of this dystopian future frequent to insert exotic holidays, exhilarating adventures and erotic liaisons in to their memories. Our everyman chooses one of the top secret agent variety; however, when the doctors at REKALL begin the process there is a problem, Doug already has memories of being a spy and turns out to be at the centre of a far-reaching political conspiracy.
A 90 minute chase scene ensues. For the most part, it is bland, uninspired and even manages to include a car chase that wouldn’t look out of place on Police Camera Action! late night on ITV3, despite the cars hovering above roads high in the sky. What does manage to keep some of the viewer’s attention during this exercise in mediocrity is the fully realised vision of the future, from the Fall itself (and a couple of great scenes where gravity is reversed) to the slummish dwellings and the dwellers themselves. Around the middle of the film there is an intriguing scene where the theme of identity threatens to be explored, but this scene lasts about as long as the blast of gunshot that ends it. The most memorable pieces of science fiction are those which explore some part of the human condition, and this cursory glance at identity (a theme Philip K. Dick was obsessed with) is as close as director Len Wiseman’s Total Recall gets to such an exploration.
In general the acting is satisfactory, albeit not the best performance of any of the main players. Farrell in particular appears to struggle in his role but I get the impression it would be difficult to act with as little character progression as Quaid. The same could be said for Beckinsale as Lori. Oddly, Lori and the other main female character, Melina (Jessica Biel) looked slightly similar and I often mistook one for the other.
In summary, Total Recall is not a bad film. Neither however is it a particularly good film. A by-the-numbers plot, a predictable ending and a po-faced script make it hard to recommend to anyone other than those who have discovered a way to double the length of the day. The only thing it improves on the 22-year-old original is the special effects and is almost entirely superfluous as a result.