Throughout the run up to the release of Total Recall, we were continuously told that Len Wiseman’s new re-imagining would be a unique vision, rather than a direct remake. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the case. Rather than slavishly follow Philip K Dick’s original short story or create something truly original, the new version of Total Recall is simply a minor variation on the 1990 movie. It features several homage’s to Schwarzenegger feature film, such as the three breasted prostitute and the famous “two weeks” sequence, but all this really achieves is to remind us how much fun the Verhoeven version was. We may not go to Mars, but the story still broadly mirrors its predecessor.
I find movies such a Total Recall very frustrating because I cannot in all fairness give them a good write up and I then worry about continuously banging on about contemporary movies in a negative fashion. But Total Recall is a text book example of how studios make action movies these days. It focuses on style over substance and suffers from under developed characters, bland performances, lightning editing and sanitised violence. It is devoid of the charm, excess and the humour of the original. When you look at the resources that were available on this production it seems incredible that it could fail so completely. Yet the director seems to be far more enamoured with creating lens flares than telling a gripping story.
It is also quite noticeable where material has been removed from the theatrical print, allegedly to facilitate for a more action packed pace. However the impact upon the narrative is quite tangible. Bill Nighy’s resistance leader is introduced only to be dispatched after the minimal amount of plot exposition. Bryan Cranston performance is also impaired by an uneven personality arc, resulting is a somewhat lacklustre villain. One of the best selling points of the original movie was the continuous ambiguity over which one of Doug Quaid personalities was the right one. It is far less of a concern with Colin Farrell and becomes a somewhat arbitrary plot device, which is a curious choice for something that in essence is the movies foundation.
For those who think I have a blanket dislike of modern action movies, especially those that are aimed purely at the mass PG-13 market, I would draw your attention to Joe Wright’s Hanna. It is a prime example of how to take a very traditional story and imbue it with original ideas, strong performances and characters we care about, while still providing the action fix that the audience wants in the current idiom. If only Total Recall could have taken a leaf out of that book, it would have improved matters considerably. The bottom line is if you want to achieve a successful remake you have to offer the audience something new, be it a fresh angle or theme. If you have the gall to try and remake something as iconic as possibly Arnie’s best action movie, then you have to be doubly sure you are going to do something different. Len Wiseman has unfortunately taken a character laden and unique brand of ale and rendered it into a generic “lite beer”. As we all know a “lite beer” doesn’t truly satisfy and is a poor substitute for the real thing.