In total need of a rewrite, recast and rethink

Like the films Minority Report and Blade Runner, Total Recall is based on an original work by legendary sci-fi writer Philip K Dick. His short story We can remember it for you wholesale was originally published in 1966 and detailed the humdrum existence of a man called Quail, who dreamt of a more exciting life out on the Martian colonies. Enlisting the services of a company called Rekal, he elects to have memories of the life he always wanted implanted into his mind. On doing so, his world is changed beyond recognition and everything he knows is thrown into question.

Where the 1990 film adaptation of Dick’s short, retitled ‘Total Recall’ and directed by Paul Verhoven, kept the Mars setting, this new version by Underworld helmer Len Wisemen employs a post-apocalyptic Earth with just two habitable regions remaining. This is perhaps the only original element of the new film and as such provides an interesting departure from both the short story and the previous film: a giant elevator journeys underground, connecting northernmost Europe, now known as the United Federation of Britain, with Australia (filling in for Mars), now known as the Colony. Needless to say, with these two areas housing the entire planet’s surviving population, both are grossly over-populated. The working class colonists of the south, like protagonist Quaid (the last letter changed), are forced to commute between these two hemispheres in order to earn a living wage in the northern factories of their British overlords. With little employment offered elsewhere, the workers are exploited mercilessly. The science and engineering is nonsense, but it captures the imagination and provides the film with two of its most intriguing action set-pieces: as the elevator ‘The Fall’ passes between hemispheres, gravity switches, creating some minutes of weightlessness and the perfect environment for a sci-fi shoot out. Beyond this invention though, the film falls short of both the potential of the source material and the standard set by the previous film version.

Colin Farrell, despite beefing up for the role and putting in the most credible performance on offer, has yet to convince me that he’s not the most uninteresting choice of lead action figure in Hollywood’s toy box. Similarly, one also has to ask if the director’s wife Kate Beckinsale, whose settings, since starring in her hubby’s Underworld franchise, appear to be stuck on ‘toffee-nosed-ass-kicking-hell-harpy’, would still be in employment were it not for said husband: she struts, strides, slides and power-pouts her way through every scene, attaining a level of naturalism to match the robot army that her character commands. In fairness though, none of the actors are given an easy ride by a script that barely makes dramatic sense when filmed, so it must surely have been baffling on paper. Even the extras look confused. Only Farrell, whose valiant attempts to embellish the pedestrian script with his roguish everyman charisma, can sometimes distract from the dialogue’s obvious shortcomings.

Not counting the gross misuse of lens flare as popularised by JJ Abrams’ Star Trek, the look of the film is perhaps its most redeeming feature, albeit pilfered unimaginatively from a dozen more reputable sources: the Colony is shamelessly Blade Runner, all dystopian dreamlike, neo-punks and acid-rain umbrellas; while London, with its multiple levels of anti-grav traffic lanes, is unmistakably a distinct blend of Minority Report and Fifth Element. What you’re left with is pretty soulless: a handful of neat visual ideas, inconsistently executed by a director who, by aping giants like Ridley Scott and Steven Spielberg, only succeeds in placing emphasis on his own inadequacies.


Total Recall (11)

Dir: Len Wiseman; US/ Can sci-fi action, 2012, 121 mins; Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bill Nighy
Premiered August 9
Playing nationwide

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