Review: Total Recall
Len Wiseman’s Total Recall has just the right level of ambition and quality of execution to make for an enjoyable fly-under-the-radar late–summer movie. The film comes with the curiosity factor of what will be different from Paul Verhoeven’s original starring Arnold Schwarzenegger that—like much of what the public entertained and enabled in his films of the Eighties and Nineties—is memorable only for a handful of groan-worthy Arnold catch-phrases and a couple more outrageous visual effects and gags. Wiseman effectively delivers a fresh approach that scrubs what was unfortunate about those memories, while retaining enough of that film’s “banner moments” to satisfy the youngsters not familiar with that version as well as the oldsters that fondly recall it.
The film jettisons the “Life on Mars” setting of the original and brings the story back to Earth. The use of chemical weapons has rendered the entire planet uninhabitable save for England, its surrounding areas, and Australia, now known as the Colony. And in another of this summer’s nods to the 99 percent vs. the 1 percent (see The Dark Knight Rises), the rich people, led by a military-style president played by Bryan Cranston, live in the English territory, while the poor work like slaves and live in crammed slums in the Colony. Naturally, there is a brewing resistance among the low-level masses, spearheaded by a mysterious leader played by Bill Nighy.
Colin Farrell, who lately has transitioned into today’s best example of a “workmanlike” leading man, plays Douglas Quaid, low-level worker on an assembly line manufacturing police droids. He’s married to a beautiful member of the security force played by Kate Beckinsale, and lives in the Colony. Oh, and he also keeps having these horrible nightmares in which he and another kick-ass beautiful woman (Jessica Biel) fight to escape a fortified installation until he eventually gets caught.
Unable to shake this persistent dream, Quaid goes to Rekall, a place that will insert an exotic memory experience into your brain for a fee. Which is all well and good until the process alerts the Rekall technician that he’s got some buried military operative memories in his head and opens up his memory bank enough to remember some dormant fighting skills, just in time to help him kill a dozen or so policemen that have been called upon the scene to take him away.
Confused and panicked, Quaid returns home and discovers his wife is also a secret agent who is now also bent on killing him. So much for couples counseling, right? What follows is a Bourne-like parkour chase sequence running across rooftops and diving through various apartments and conveniently placed architecture through the city during which Quaid is pursued and shot at by his wife (featuring Beckinsale using her considerable action skills honed fighting and killing werewolves in her and hubby Wiseman’s Underworld series of films). Eventually, he escapes with Biel’s help and starts piecing together who he is and what his role will be in aiding the resistance while on the run from his wife and countless police droids.
While Total Recall is not original in the least, it utilizes its influences (the Bourne films, Minority Report, Fifth Element, and—let’s see, a government that makes it seem as if they need to wage war with an army of droids war to protect the public, what movie with a galaxy far, far away did that one come from?) like a “greatest hits” compilation, and keeps those hits coming until the credits roll. It’s a great date movie by design that won’t make anyone think too hard: entertaining him with the action, and her with curiosity as to whether or not Beckinsale keeps in fighting shape with pilates or Bikram yoga.
Finally, as a public service I must say that the MPAA needs to place a moratorium on the usage of Bryan Cranston and Bill Nighy in films going forward. Both men, while being absolutely talented and effective, have turned into the American and English versions of the Will Rogers actor—neither apparently has met a script they didn’t like. A vacation from the big screen is in order for those guys. Send them on a well-deserved cruise or something because, as great as they are, it’s getting distracting.