Admit it. Mention “three boobs”, and the first thing that pops into your mind is Total Recall. No, not the 2012 remake with Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel, but the 1990 original with Arnold Schwarzenegger. That’s the kind of classic it was and is, and its many iconic images is a huge reason why it landed at number 10 on my list of the 20 Most Rewatchable Movies of All-Time.
Ultimately the problem with Total Recall 2012 is that it pales in comparison to the memorable 1990 version. While not a horrible sci-fi action flick in its own right, and despite featuring far more attractive actors (no offense to Arnie, Sharon Stone and Rachel Ticotin) and impressive special effects, the film just didn’t feel like it could match the intensity, humour and freshness of the original.
We are told that the 2012 Total Recall is not strictly a “remake” of the 1990 film, but merely another very loose film adaptation of the Philip K Dick short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”. I don’t know if I buy that because based on this Wikipedia entry, the 2012 remake appears much closer to the 1990 film than the short story itself.
The plot of the 2012 film virtually mirrors that of the 1990 film, minus that whole Mars business. Okay, so it’s a little more intricate than that, but all you need to know is that it’s the future and there is an autocratic superpower and a bunch of rebels fighting against them. Colin Farrell is Douglas Quaid, a factory worker who suffers from a recurring nightmare which suggests that he is some kind of secret agent. Like Arnie before him, Quaid heads to this place called Rekall, which can supposedly implant fake memories, but all it does is reveal that perhaps his nightmares are more than just dreams.
The progression of this remake is roughly similar to that of the original but the fact that they remain firmly on Earth instead of heading to Mars means the films have some very significant differences. There are, of course, no mutants now, but instead there are these lame robots. There’s none of the reddish sand of Mars, but rather, a post-apocalytpic, clearly Blade Runner-inspired future that offers a wet, crowded blend of Eastern and Western cultures. The vast improvements in special effects mean prettier landscapes, cooler machines and gadgets.
None of these changes, however, have translated to a better film in substance.
Farrell exhibits more emotional range than Arnie (not hard) and Beckinsale and Biel are sexier femme fatales than Stone and Ticotin, but unlike their predecessors, none of them seem to be having any fun (not even Bryan Cranston!). Save for a few one-liners from Beckinsale, this film is dead serious from beginning to end. The 1990 film was often wry; this one is nearly always bleary.
There are a lot of fast-moving gun fights, explosions and chase scenes (on foot and in vehicles) but few generated genuine excitement for me. Much of it was because I never really cared for the characters or what they stood for, and more importantly, because I never got the sense that they were in any real danger. It was pretty to watch but not gripping from an emotional standpoint.
The film also has a bunch of references to the original (yes, including the three boobs), but it felt like they were there for the sake of being there, rather than as tributes. It begged the question of why a film that is uninspiringly stuck halfway between a remake and re-envisioning was really necessary in the first place.
One of the most interesting things about the 1990 film for me was that, even at the end, you still questioned whether what you were seeing was real or in Quaid’s head. Disappointingly, the 2012 film, through various story-telling devices, makes its answer very obvious early on and left no doubt by the end.
Total Recall 2012 is directed by Len Wiseman, husband of Kate Beckinsale and best known for his work on the Underworld series and the fourth Die Hard instalment. I can’t deny that he has a certain visual flair and I thank him for keeping the smoking Kate Beckinsale around for much longer than Sharon Stone, but I can’t say it was one of his stronger efforts. I am willing to bet that years from now, the mention of “three boobs” will still conjour up memories of the original, and not this film.
2.75 stars out of 5