Not sure if these count as identity theft, but after nabbing the role of neighbourhood necksmith Jerry in last year’s unnecessary but better-than-adequate Fright Night remake, Colin Farrell has now stepped into the sizable shoes of a certain Mr Schwarzenegger to take pole position in an ambitious re-imagining of old school Arnie actioner Total Recall. Though equally uncalled for, it’s not half bad, less a violent star vehicle than a straight-faced and slickly-crafted sci fi adventure.
Gone are the one-liners and wholesale blood-letting, the cheesy miniatures and rubbery prosthetics. As much as I will always love Paul Verhoeven’s original, it’s not aging particularly well, and although I seriously doubted this remake would be adequately helmed by director Len Wiseman, whose lamentable Underworld films do not speak well of his abilities, I did my best to keep an open mind.
Sporting a radically different plot, this second take on Phil Dick’s short story, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, nevertheless retains the same key twists and turns as the original. Which means, although for the most part you’re watching an entirely new movie, when it comes to surprises, there aren’t any. At least, not any big ones…
One of the smartest moves of the remake is that alongside such expected nods as the three-boobed hooker, who may well make you wish you had three hands, the movie plays on our knowledge of the original and subsequent expectations by manipulating us into anticipating a familiar moment before veering off in an altogether different direction. Though newcomers to the story will be entirely oblivious to these unexpected moments, they certainly add value for those who know the original all too well.
Set not on Mars but a fractured future Earth laid waste by chemical warfare, the movie unfolds on the only two habitable islands on the planet, a populous, multi-cultural stew known as The Colony and, hooray for us, The United Federation of Britain. Linked by an enormous elevator that travels via the Earth’s core, while the former is relatively independent, the latter is ruled by a wannabe dictator (Bryan Cranston) with an army of synthetic cops and, of course, an evil plan.
A sprawling, high-rise collision of surviving cultures, The Colony was clearly designed by architects versed in the teachings of Ridley Scott (Blade Runner) and Luc Besson (The Fifth Element). A dark, dystopian futurescape, it’s a fantastic and credibly rendered setting tailor-made for sweeping camera shots and parkour-style chase sequences. The UFB, meanwhile, looks much like Blighty does today, only four or five Blighties piled on top of one another.
A working stiff with an unfeasibly hot wife (Kate ‘Mrs Wiseman’ Beckinsale), Douglas Quaid’s (Farrell) dreams of a brighter, wilder life lead him to memory manufacturers Rekall. Only when the input process appears instead to unearth a submerged personality with wicked killing skills, Doug finds himself on the run from pretty much everyone, solving the mystery of who he really is, what he’s meant to do and why he was given such a goofy first name, as he struggles to survive on both sides of a world that sorely needs saving. But is it real, or really a dream? Either way, it makes little difference. So long as it’s entertaining. Which, for the most part, it is.
Dynamically shot and choreographed, though not particularly memorable, it’s fun while it lasts. Though the characters lack any semblance of depth, visually the movie pops quite considerably. Clearly a great deal of thought was invested in costume, prop and set design. So much so, in fact, that with a little extra thought, Wiseman and his team could have probably come up with an entirely original movie. Regardless, there’s enough new stuff to justify its existence, from a vertiginous hover car chase to an extended battle in an impossible construct of elevators that might well have been designed by Willy Wonka or M.C. Escher.
In a role that demands equal measures of acting and physical stuff, Farrell’s a capable hero, though I’d have liked to have seen more from bad guy Cranston, whose subtly savage side is so well showcased in TV’s excellent Breaking Bad. Playing for the girls, Jessica Biel kicks ass competently as the heroine of Farrell’s dreams, but the show is roundly stolen by Beckinsale, chewing scenery and bringing on the pain in a showy henchwoman role that combines those played by Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside in the original.
Though the world didn’t need another Total Recall, it’s not something I want purged from my memory. All things considered, it’s closer to a dream than a nightmare.