Rewatched Aug 08, 2012
Geir Friestad’s review:
Of the director-husband-and-actress-wife teams I can think of off the top my head, Len Wiseman and Kate Beckinsale is probably the one whose output I find the most enjoyable (I'm not a fan of the Coens, and while Milla Jovovich is always great fun, Paul W.S. Anderson is a shit director). The Underworld movies aren't great cinema, but they do offer a certain amount of monochromatic style, action entertainment and, let's be honest, pleasing curves. Live Free and Die Hard has its moments too. So, while it's still obviously completely unnecessary, the thought of a Wiseman-directed, Beckinsale-starring remake of Verhoeven's classic Arnold mindfuck spectacle didn't fill me with utter dread.
And the short verdict is that it isn't bad. Neither is it great. Coming across mostly as a frenetic mashup of the Bourne movies and Minority Report, Wiseman's Total Recall doesn't quite live up to Verhoeven's movie, but how could it? Verhoeven's humorously bombastic style is hard to emulate, and Wiseman wisely (sorry) tries something completely different, while still finding the time to frequently tip his hat at the original (the lady in the immigration control, severed arms, etc).
Going into plot details seems pointless – most people will have seen the original already anyway. Suffice to say that Mars is out, and the action here alternates between the two habitable places left on Earth – The United Federation of Britain and Australia, which is simply called The Colony here (confusingly populated by people who all speak with American accents). Travel between the two happen via the movie's least convincing idea – a fancy, oversized elevator referred to as The Fall. Your brain will hurt less if you just accept that idea, and not think too much about the practical sides of building and operating something like that. Trust me.
Anyway, Colin Farrell attempts to fill Arnold's old shoes, more or less getting by with better acting and less charisma. Doug Quaid is more of a confused and less interesting nobody here than Arnold's bug-eyed, grimacing wild man was. On the fake wife side, Sharon Stone's Lori character and the Michael Ironside character of the original have been conflated into a single one here, played with gusto and determined fury by Kate Beckinsale. She's basically Selina without the black latex and fangs. Jessica Biel makes for an agreeable Melina – Doug's real, freedom fighting, gun-toting main squeeze. Bryan Cranston and Bill Nighy also show up as the mostly forgettable main villain and resistance leader, respectively; this new Total Recall is mainly a Farrell/Biel/Beckinsale chase-flavored ménage à trois. Anyone else popping up along the way are just side dressing.
I enjoyed this new Total Recall. It doesn't question reality with the excellent mindfuck qualities of Verhoeven's movie, but as a futuristic straight-ahead chase movie I thought it delivered. Parts of it are also very visually satisfying – the rain-drenched, overcrowded urban nightmare of The Colony, with its cubist Kowloon of the future-look, is terrific, delivering the most organic-feeling cityscape of this ilk since the original Blade Runner. If the whole movie had looked like this, I'd have been very happy. Is it a must see? No. But I'm glad I did.