I find it ironic that Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is so bored with mundane life in Total Recall that he seeks the key to the secrets in his dreams; a longing for a better, more spectacular life with more substance. Better and more spectacular – this remake had the potential to be that, to build on the Philip K. Dick story that was originally immortalized in the Arnold Schwarzenegger 1990 flick. However, it seems to run into the same issues Quaid does in his (fake) life. Everything from the plot, to the characters, to even the visuals are redundant and generic during Len Wiseman’s reboot. It is at least – for the most part – a fun, if forgettable escape before we step out of the theater into our own reality.
Farrell plays Quaid as he is haunted by the same dream of escaping capture with a mysterious woman (Jessica Biel) that gives him a longing of a higher purpose. He works on an assembly line, in a factory with his friend Harry (Bokeem Woodbine) building synthetics, robot soldiers in the vein of the Clones in the Star Wars prequels or the NS-5’s in I, Robot. He lives a nondescript life with a beautiful wife (Kate Beckinsale) and while going through the motions, he is driven to find the answer to the emptiness he feels.
Quaid and his wife live in the Colony, a dark, industrial-like slum, and they commute via The Fall, a transport that goes through the core of the Earth in order to reach Great Britain, the only other habitable place on the planet, where the rich get richer. The world is comprised of these two regions as the rest is uninhabitable due to the plaent’s earlier chemical warfare. The Resistance has been fighting with the elite over equality ,while the controlling government class declares them as terrorists trying to disrupt the system that works for all involved. Quaid feels connected to these stories and needs answers to filling the void and lack of purpose in his life that his dreams allude to.
Enter ‘Rekall’, the escapism that the bored need in order to live the fantasy and drown out the routine reality. You can become a movie star, sports figure, or even a secret agent. It is obvious that Quaid goes for the secret agent gig, but before he can get fully immersed, things go bad. Fast. His loving wife, quite suddenly is an evil undercover agent trying to kill him. That girl in the dream? Oh, she’s real and fights for the Resistance. Speaking of the Resistance, yep, he is definitely connected to their organization. And the government led by Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston)? Yeah, Quaid is so important to them, that he needs to be hunted down for what he knows. Still following me? Honestly, it doesn’t matter. He is basically Jason Bourne in the future trying to figure out his purpose. That seemed easier than writing those last two paragraphs. Take from that as you will.
It should be known that while there are few Easter Eggs for those that have seen the 1990 version (Three-boobed lady!!), this bears extremely little resemblance to that movie. The Paul Verhoeven film had Mars, Sharon Stone, the idea of reality versus perception. Plus bug eyed people in search of oxygen (note, that ALWAYS freaked me out when I was a little kid, I couldn’t watch that sequence for years). Len Wiseman goes in a direction that only skims the idea of living up to your past versus establishing your own destiny and identity. He has always been a great visual and action director and really takes advantage of the futuristic setting and beautiful actors to establish eye candy and fast pacing for the audience to cover up the lack of depth in the screenplay.
Farrell does a serviceable job as Quaid as he runs around trying to figure out who the hell he is and who he needs to be. I do wish that there was a bit more depth or explanation to the character that delves into Quaid’s past, because his path to the truth seems to run so fast, and the character embraces his rogue fugitive present all too easily. While great for pacing into the action set pieces, which Farrell handles very well, the investment into the character is just on the ‘good guy must beat bad guy level’ as opposed to the ‘I hope he gets closer on who he truly is destined to be’ type of guy.
Beckinsale has fun with largely expanded role of his wife that goes from ‘loving spouse’ to ‘femme fatale-like kiler’ too quickly in her quest to take down her confused ‘husband’. However the increased visibility of the character distracted me as it seems to be more a showcase for her, as opposed to keeping the story on Quaid and developing his journey story arc to find the truth. Granted, I can definitely get over myself and just appreciate Beckinsale owning the screen. Jessica Biel does a good job as well, even if the character is very one note, and merely a directional arrow in order to get Quaid from point A to point B. Cranston should have been in this movie for longer, but during his time on the screen, he owns it and makes sure you know he is the big man in charge, and that he has no problem making sure his agenda is carried out.
Visually, the Colony looks like the world in Blade Runner, mixed in with Toronto’s Chinatown. Apparently Australia, where the Colony is located, is where all the Asian people went during the chemical warfare that engulfed planet Earth. The filmmakers really put the doom and gloom into the movie and capture the oppressed nature of the citizens of the Colony. While visually impressive with the set decoration and CGI, it feels repetitive to stare at the same dull interiors that every bar/apartment/government building this world has. Who knew the future was so listless and unimaginative? However, the action sequences are great and the futuristic car chase scene is fun to watch. I was a big fan of an elevator sequence too because holy crap Beckinsale kicks ass in this movie. I swear they took the sequences straight from Minority Report [Ed. Note – Early Drafts of the Minority Report script were written for Total Recall 2, which obviously never happened], but they still are visually appealing nonetheless. And Kate Beckinsale, again, is a total badass in this movie.
Overall, this is a fun diversionary movie and nothing more. I felt it could have gone deeper into the idea of innate personality versus the expectation/perception of who you were, but I will take a straight up sci-fi action flick that will stimulate the senses for 2 hours. The movie goes fast and it is a ride, but just like Quaid, do not ask me to recall any details about it later, for it will be a distant memory until the next action flick shows up on the silver screen.