There’s a certain sense of irony in the fact that the first words seen on screen in Len Wiseman’s Total Recall are “original film”. They form a part of the logo for a company of the same name, and the one behind this remake of the 20 year-old Paul Verhoeven genre classic. A controversial project since first announced, it’s wickedly appropriate that it is a film concerned with the memory that has provoked such intense feelings based largely upon memories.
It probably won’t surprise many to hear that the film is unremarkable, but serviceable enough. Lens-flare rules the day, with strobes and shaky-cam also helping to mask any kind of defined cinematic vision. Christopher Nolan’s Inception is the clear tonal reference point for Wiseman’s film, with double-takes and dream-layering forming the films structural backbone. Action sequences tend to amount to the typical kind of throw-away gunfights one would expect of a mid-level post-2005 blockbuster (c.f. the Resident Evil movies, Wiseman’s own Underworld series), with the masses of bullets leading to an unfortunate deletion of any sense of danger in proceedings.
Wiseman’s over simplified take on an already fairly simple premise sees a man (Colin Farrell) one day discover that the life that he knows may not be quite what he thinks it is. Cue a man on the run, and one seeking answers, to a dystopian backdrop that rather confusingly lacks any real element of woe when compared to the urgency being declared. While a conspiracy bubbles on the underside it’s never particularly clear just what that conspiracy entails, and the film is lacking the big idea™ that elevates great science-fiction. While lacking in that area, the film couldn’t be more closely aligned with it’s genre in some of the more unwelcome ways. The trappings of the stereotypes that haunt the action genre, such as robots with terrible aim and a tacked on intellectual element sullies any sincerity at hand.
While the film may just about succeed as a harmless action film, the sense of world-building on display is admittedly rather great. Channeling the usual suspects (Blade Runner, Metropolis, Minority Report) in creating his world, Wiseman succeeds for the most part. The future vision of Total Recall is aesthetically pleasing, the stacked mega-cities making for a genuinely impressive playground, while conceptually it works rather well too, even if it is lacking the subversive streak that the original had. And while this most recent iteration of Total Recall may pale in comparison to it’s elder brethren, it does actually fit in perfectly well alongside the identikit, one-view wonders of 2012 (Battleship, John Carter, The Hunger Games et al).