This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 26th August 2012
Forget everything you saw and loved in the Arnie version. This remake/reboot is completely different except for the central theme and character names.
Sure, there are a couple of shy nods to the original, but mostly this rendition doesn’t recall much of it at all. So you can either wail over the missing mutants or marvel at the spectacularly dystopian cityscape, created here by the team under director Len Wiseman (writer and sometime-director of the four Underworld movies, and Mr Kate Beckinsale).
Colin Farrell (Minority Report) takes Schwarzenegger’s place as Doug Quaid, a factory worker who commutes each day between the only inhabitable places on Earth: the Colony and the United Federation of Britain. The Colony-dwellers live in perpetual rain and gloom (it’s a futuristic Australia on the map but looks more like Blade Runner than Home and Away) while the UFB improbably basks in sunshine.
Dissatisfied with his humdrum job and loving wife, Quaid is tempted to visit Rekall, where you can buy a dream holiday or experience and have the memories implanted so that they feel real. Suddenly we realise Quaid is not all that he seems, though it’s news to him, too. On the run, but not sure which side he is on, Quaid takes to the streets and freeways of the incredible multilayered city. Much chasing, fighting and getting away ensues.
Those who haven’t been quoting the 1990 film for the past two decades will appreciate much of what’s excellent in this reboot. It is the production and art design that thrills initially: the pan-Asian style coupled with Russian script on signs; grungy, grimy concrete apartments built in mid-air; a technologically-advanced world where people speak by phone directly into their hands, and cars whiz about on a three-dimensional grid.
Wiseman’s experience on the Underworld movies shows his grasp of tone in the futuristic action genre, though, alas, no panache in rendering fights and gun battles as particularly interesting. Once the initial “wow” response wears off, things get pretty traditional.
The performances are all fine, which is to say Farrell, Beckinsale (reviving and extending the life of Sharon Stone’s character from the original) and Jessica Biel all do their best with a script that simply offers a lot of running about and lines like “I may not remember who I was, but I know who I am”. The best actors appear only fleetingly – a shame in the case of Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston but probably a blessing that Bill Nighy (perhaps in debt to Wiseman after Underworld?) doesn’t get more screentime for a one-note performance.
This Total Recall lacks the grit of a world suffering without water (resistance fighters deliver no such transferable terror) and clearly decided that mutants aren’t appropriate for a 21st century audience. More’s the pity. As it is, this trip down memory lane will be enjoyable at the time but forgettable after.