The Memory Remains
On the new Blu-ray of the original Total Recall — which is quite good and totally worth the double dip — director Paul Verhoven said that the reason his version had a dark humor to it was because it starred Arnold Schwarzenegger. He then noted that he’d be curious to see how the story would play out if someone told it with a more serious tone.
The answer, Mr. Verhoven, is good…not great, but good. While there’s nothing especially wrong with this new version, there’s nothing terribly unique or amazing, either.
Set in the future, when war has rendered most of the world uninhabitable, the upper-class live in England while the working class are in Australia, with the latter commuting to Britain on a train that cuts through the planet in less than twenty minutes. Among them is Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), who is unsatisfied with his work-a-day life, so he goes to Rekall, a company that implants memories in your head that make you think you’re rich, or famous, or hey, a spy. Before the implantation can take place, though, the police raid Rekall, prompting Quaid to take them all out and then go on the run to try and figure out how the hell he knows how to take out a bunch of cops.
Directed by Len Wiseman (Underworld, Live Free Or Die Hard), Recall is inspired by both the Verhoven film and “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” the 1966 short story by Philip K. Dick that prompted Verhoven’s movie. But it’s also, visually, inspired by Blade Runner, another film inspired by a Dick tale. Not only does Quaid live in a crowded city that mixes Eastern and Western influences like the Los Angeles of Blade Runner, but there’s actually a chase with flying cars like Decker might drive.
Which kind of illustrates the problem with this Recall. While it’s certainly entertaining and never boring, it’s ultimately nothing we haven’t seen before. The cyberpunk stuff, for example, will be familiar to anyone who’s played Deus Ex or watched Ghost In The Shell, while the biggest change to this story’s plot is one we’ve seen before in both real life and fiction (though we’re still not going to spill it for those who want to be surprised). And it’s even worse for fans of the original, since you know the general plot points already.
But that doesn’t mean this is a terrible movie, or that you shouldn’t check it out, especially if you’re a fan of the first one or liked what you saw in the trailers. There are some cool action scenes, such as a chase that doesn’t end like any before it, as well as a knock down, drag out brawl between Quaid’s wife (Kate Beckinsale) and his other lady friend (Jessica Biel) that will make you wish these two would team up for an action flick of their own.
It’s also interesting to see a more serious version of this story, though I can’t help but wonder what would happen if someone did a more faithful adaptation of Dick’s story — which would require Quaid to be a nebbishy accountant — or one where you really don’t know whether this is real or a dream (like Verhoven’s, Wiseman is either playing it straight, or his attempt to make this up for interpretation just fails). There are even some rather clever nods to Verhoven’s film. Which I’m sure he’ll appreciate when he sees this new take on his classic. It’s just too bad it’s not a classic in its own right.