Any announcement that there’s going to be a remake of a beloved film from years past always produces a certain vitriolic reaction from existing fans. That was especially true in the case of Total Recall, the modern-day remake of the classic 1990 Paul Verhoeven film starring the incomparable Arnold Schwarzenegger (no matter how much they try to tell you it’s a new adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale).
It’s a fear that it will somehow tarnish the memory and reputation of the version that came before, something that’s sometimes misguided and sometimes justified. In the case of this particular remake – or reinvisioning or reimagining, whatever you want to call it – it doesn’t so much soil the original as it does stand in the shadow of it.
Sticking fairly close to the original story, the film follows factory worker Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) who one day, after becoming unsatisfied with his life, decides to visit Rekall, a company which implants people with fake memories. While receiving the treatment he is suddenly thrown into his apparently real life in which he is a spy, finding himself hunted and on the run.
There’s nothing hugely wrong with Total Recall as far as what it aims to be – a slick and bombastic event movie with plenty of special effects-laden chase sequences and futuristic city landscapes. But woven into the very fabric of the film is a whole set of ideas lifted and borrowed from other sources which, in some cases, have just done this sort of thing a lot better. Blade Runner, I, Robot, The Fifth Element, Minority Report and Equilibrium, to name but a few, are all evident influences on not only the overall style but the plot and how it fuses over the-top action into that. It’s already a remake which, by definition, makes it unoriginal but strips away any minutiae of originality it may have had by being so clearly indebted to sci-fi action films of the past.
It takes a far more straight-faced and serious approach to the story than Verhoevan’s original did, substituting Schwarzenegger’s one-liner spouting for Farrell’s everyman quality, something Arnie could never really embody, no matter how hard he tried throughout the years. Supporting players include Jessica Biel, which is a rather dull, obvious piece of casting; Kate Beckinsale, who gets perhaps the most fun role; Bryan Cranston, who makes the best out of a disappointingly limited role; and Bill Nighy, who’s practically in blink and you’ll miss him territory.
The humour is almost completely lost this time around, as is Verhoeven’s uniquely physical style, leaving us with director Len Wiseman’s (Underworld) far cleaner approach. It’s a product of how modern day blockbusters are expected to be now, once again providing the necessary thrills but not doing much else.
There’s enough running, jumping and shooting to keep your attention sufficiently occupied and it ticks most of the necessary spectacle boxes. But the slick CGI-heavy aesthetic and derivative nature lends it a certain blandness, a kind of been-there-done-that feeling. This lack of personality makes Total Recall an enjoyably diverting but ultimately unmemorable blockbuster.