I’m a little disappointed; there’s really nothing remarkably cheesy or remarkably awesome about Total Recall. It’s unfair to compare any filmmaker to the unique genius of Paul Verhoeven’s “I honestly can’t tell if this is terrible or amazing” style, but I’d been hoping to be either blown away by some spectacular visuals, or challenged with a more earnest and straightforward interpretation of the short story’s original concept, or at least see something that’s unforgettable in its awfulness.
Instead, it’s a perfectly fine post-2000 action movie. It’s completely unnecessary, sure, but anyone who wasn’t already familiar with the original would be entertained for a couple of hours and then soon forget about it.
The visual effects are well done throughout. The concept design is a little too derivative of Blade Runner in places, and a little too derivative of standard dystopian future London sci-fi art in others, but it all looks nice, makes sense, and fits well together. Most of the performances are perfectly fine and believable. Colin Farrell’s and Kate Beckinsale’s American accents are near-flawless (and Beckinsale gets to drop hers). Bryan Cranston as Cohaagen is clearly having fun hamming it up under a wig that might’ve been come straight from the original movie. The story’s kind of dumb, but only if you think about it more than you should be thinking about the story in a film that’s science fiction in setting only.
The decision not to include Kuato is, of course, unforgivable.
You can see why they did it; this version of the story doesn’t go to Mars, but takes place entirely on post-apocalyptic Earth. There are no mutants, but just augmentations like glowing tattoos and in-hand cell phones; this means that three-breasted prostitute is in, little people and Kuato are out.
Still, it feels as if the soul of the movie was left behind along with him. They went for “realism” — in the Minority Report sense, not in the actual resemblance to reality sense — throughout. No eyes bugging out of their skulls from lack of oxygen. No scene with Colin Farrell pulling a tracking device out of his nose. No memorable one-liners like “Give this people aiahh!” or “Consider dat a divorce.” (Even that got watered down to “It’s safe to say we’re separated” for the remake).
The only possibility of a sound board from this version would just be Kate Beckinsale saying “Shit.” over and over again. (Seriously, that’s like half of her dialogue).
The original Total Recall, at least in my memory, exists in this grand golden age where sci-fi action movies of quality varying from Blade Runner and Aliens to Robocop to The Running Man all roamed the Earth and interbred with each other. The remake seems to have gotten most of its DNA from Minority Report and The Matrix and video games; the outland looks a little too much like Fallout, about two-thirds of the movie is jumping puzzles, and the build-up to the climax is a bunch of zero-gravity shootouts with robot soldiers.
A few minor complaints:
- An elevator that goes through the center of the Earth is kind of dumb anyway, but it seems completely dumb when to a) put all the bad guys on it after announcing your evil scheme on live television, and b) waste the potential of showing a bad guy getting incinerated by the Earth’s molten core.
- The premise is that living space has become the most valuable thing on Earth, but the characters are supposed to be relatively poor and they still have an apartment that’s bigger than mine.
- Also the housing doesn’t seem designed to maximize space so much as maximize opportunities to jump from one balcony to the next.
- The original was as far removed from actual science fiction as TLC reality programming is removed from reality, but it still had a few scenes that really played on the idea of “what is real and what’s a false memory?” The remake removes all of that; the most dramatic of those scenes gets neutered and turned into a predictable stand-off.
- If ever a movie could justify having a post-credits sequence, this is it. One last bit to keep you guessing. But there isn’t one.
There was one bit that seemed like a clever callback to the original, where the camera focused on an actress who looked a lot like the woman that Arnold Schwarzenegger disguised himself as to get through security. Apart from that, though, there’s a sense that the filmmakers didn’t get that the original was supposed to be at least a little campy, goofy, and fun.
I can imagine that if you were to find someone who had no attachment to the 1990s version, and you showed them both movies back to back, they might insist that the remake was a better movie. And on some level, they’d be right. But I can guarantee that if you asked again a couple years later, the remake would be all but forgotten, but the original would still be fresh in their mind.