Rebooting "Total Recall" Manages to Improve on Verhoeven's Take Review

Total Recall is a movie that’s had its fair share of difficulties. Cinema Blend did a fantastic piece on the film’s production, including a certain A-list performer who was completely removed from the finished product. I never had anything against a remake of Total Recall. Especially if said remake was going to stick slightly more to PK Dick’s We Can Remember It For You Wholesale than the Schwarzenegger joint from 1990. Arnold’s version is nice, fun and silly but Dick’s work is far more meditative. Most of his material is and that’s not an easy thing to translate to the screen. The reason so many pride Blade Runner as the best adaptation of Dick’s work (and possibly, the greatest sci-fi film ever made) is because Scott took much of the slow-boil meditative stuff of Dick’s novel and put it on the screen. Like every film adaptation, there are differences, but in Blade Runner’s case, it worked.

Dick’s work is often filled with dangerously lofty concepts, some of which are unfilmable. Both film adaptations of We Can Remember It For You Wholesale excise the Christ-imagery of Quail (named Quaid on-screen), as well as the alien overseer concept that brings the story to a close. Instead, the film adaptations focus on the secret agent aspects, albeit, in slightly different ways. Which works.

Full disclosure: I watched the Extended Director’s Cut of the film. I figured I’d give Len Wiseman a chance to wow me with whatever his initial vision of this story was. As referenced in that Cinema Blend piece, I was hoping this version would include Ethan Hawke’s cameo as pre-face changed Quaid/Hauser. Alas, this was not to be. Though Hawke is rumored to have filmed around five pages of dialogue, none of it has made it into the film. Which is a shame. I think, more often than not, audiences are smarter than they appear (Twilight-fans notwithstanding) and could’ve handled the revelation that the character had his face swapped once he went “undercover.”

The fact that the film is, at its core, a straight-up action joint shouldn’t surprise anyone. At the same time, there are some brilliant setpieces that put the original to shame, as well as some of that flashy semi-trendy modern sci-fi tech we’ve seen in other flicks like Minority Report, Looper or In Time that has also found a home in the new Total Recall. Colin Farrell is the lead here, and helps elevate the material from a silly science fiction jaunt to a somewhat heady psychological fugue flick. I’m going to trademark that term in a minute, if possible. Psychological Fugue Flick. Supporting folk like Bryan Cranston and Bill Nighy (who has like, five total minutes of screentime) are fantastic, though somewhat underutilized. Cranston’s wig isn’t anything to write home about, either, but he’s solid. Jessica Biel is lovely, though incredibly boring and somewhat stiff (zing!). That shouldn’t really surprise, she’s more eye candy than anything substantial here.

Speaking of substantial, Kate Beckinsale, an actress I always pegged as being a bit of an ice queen (see also: Emily Blunt) was really a standout for me here. She’s all kinds of sexy, but also incredibly diabolical, playing an expanded version of the Sharon Stone wife/rival agent character. She’s got some absurd quips here and there (“I give good wife”), but kudos to Len Wiseman for casting his smoking-hot badass wife. If Wiseman and Paul Anderson were to team up and put their wives in a film together, we’d get some kind of science-fiction-action grindhouse flick starring Beckinsale and Jovovich. Hollywood, just take my money already.

Speaking of sexy (for the ladies in the house), there’s Will Yun Lee in the tiniest role ever. Lee was in the remake of Red Dawn, but also played my favorite video game hero of 2012, Wei Shen in United Front Games’ Sleeping Dogs. He plays a co-worker of Quaid’s who clues him in about what Rekall has to offer. I would’ve liked to see Lee get Bokeem Woodbine’s role here, but whatever, Bokeem’s gotta eat!

Wiseman is a director who never really pops up on my radar. He was rumored to be circling the Gears of War film adaptation a few years back, but that never happened. Maybe it will one day, who knows? I find Wiseman’s work to be somewhat boring and uninspired, however; I do enjoy his workmanlike approach to filmmaking. Workmanlike is a term I’ve thrown around in the past, but I mean it in a positive way. Wiseman knows how to direct an action sequence. Moment to moment, his films might drag a bit (Total Recall not included in this statement), but overall, the guy gets the job done. With Total Recall, he seems to be borrowing JJ Abrams’ lens flare while also channeling pre-Transformers Michael Bay in terms of scope of action, but again, I emphasize: not a bad thing. Quite good, actually.

Kurt Wimmer handles scripting duties alongside Mark Bomback. Wimmer’s a guy I’ve always liked for some reason. This is a dude who’s impossibly handsome and has written some of the better action/thrillers of the past few years. He also invented Gun Kata, the badass fighting style used by Christian Bale and others in the terminally-underrated Equilibrium, which is a better film than The Matrix (awaits the ire of a million nerds). While sci-fi might be his wheelhouse, he’s a solid writer and I’m always up for a Kurt Wimmer flick, as horrifically bad as Ultraviolet was.

I’d like to see the entire production design team of Total Recall moved onto the eventual Mass Effect film. The sleek weapon designs, armor and glass/surface-inspired interfaces would lend themselves naturally to Mass Effect’s universe. Overall, the film is very shiny and sleek, another trend in modern sci-fi. I like my science fiction universes like I like my women: either sleek and sterile with almost no discernible tearing or, at the other end of the spectrum, trashy and unkempt. While Total Recall showcases both, it errs on the side of sleek and sterile more often than not, as a majority of the action takes place in the United Federation of Britain (with The Colony being the trashy, overcrowded region of the world) that uses The Fall (think of a massive subway ride through the Earth’s core and you’re about there) to ship workers from one end of the world to the other. Visually, The Fall is really cool, something I’ve never really seen before on-screen.

Certain scenes mimic those found in the original, with slight variation here and there. Typically, I’m not a big fan of that sort of thing, however; here, it works. Total Recall, the remake, works. As a huge Verhoeven fanatic, I can honestly admit that I enjoyed Wiseman’s riff on the source material more than the original. I’ve always seen the original Total Recall as an exercise in Verhoevian (trademarked!) madness with a bloated budget and entirely too much silliness. This toned-down version is far more interesting, stylistically, as it removes the Mars element but keeps the broad with the three boobs.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

Total Recall with Insight (director Len Wiseman), Featurettes, Extended and Theatrical Cuts of the film (exclusive to Blu-ray), God of War: Ascension PS3 Demo, Commentary

"Total Recall" is on sale December 18, 2012 and is rated PG13. Sci-Fi. Directed by Len Wiseman. Written by Kurt Wimmer, Mark Bomback. Starring Bryan Cranston, Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale.

Jan
04
2013
Robert Ottone • Staff Writer

Robert Ottone is a freelance journalist living and working on Long Island. He writes for a variety of publications and websites covering business, politics, lifestyle and film. Check out his blog here.


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