Movie Review

Total Recall

Is it real or is it Rekall?
Total Recall Movie Poster

US Release Date: 08-03-2012

Directed by: Len Wiseman


  • Colin Farrell
  • Douglas Quaid / Hauser
  • Kate Beckinsale
  • Lori Quaid
  • Jessica Biel
  • Melina
  • Bryan Cranston
  • Cohaagen
  • Bokeem Woodbine
  • Harry
  • Bill Nighy
  • Matthias
  • John Cho
  • McClane
  • Will Yun Lee
  • Marek
Average Stars:
Reviewed on: August 5th, 2012
Colin Farrell and Kate Beckinsale in Total Recall.

Colin Farrell and Kate Beckinsale in Total Recall.

The original Total Recall, released in 1990 and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, was a box office hit and is generally remembered fondly. It currently stands at 84% on Rotten Tomatoes. I was a fan when it came out, but after recently rewatching it, I was less than impressed. It hasn't aged particularly well and it failed to live up to my memory of it. Although this remake is far from perfect, I do think part of the negative reaction to it (31% on RT) is that people are comparing it to their memory of the original rather than to the actual original.

Set in a dystopian future, the story takes place following a chemical war which has rendered most of the planet uninhabitable. For unexplained reasons, the only two habitable regions are Great Britain and Australia. Despite being able to construct a tunnel that goes all the way through the planet to connect these areas, these future residents are somehow unable to construct domes or enclosed ecosystems in the chemically damaged areas. The Mars location of the original is gone (although a nod is made to it in a brief exchange between two characters), with Australia taking its place in the story.

Colin Farrell stars as Douglas Quaid, a factory worker plagued by a recurring dream featuring an unknown woman. He's bored and dissatisfied with life, despite being married to the incredibly hot Lori (Beckinsale) and having the ripped body of a movie star that seemingly requires no exercise to maintain. After seeing some advertisements for ReKall, a company that offers the ability to have your wildest fantasy come true by implanting fake memories into your brain, he decides to pay them a visit.

The rest of the movie takes place after his visit to ReKall. He asks for the secret agent fantasy and the technician describes a scenario to him that is a rough outline of the plot to come. The idea being that we are left to guess whether or not everything that takes place from the moment that needle goes into his skin is real or simply ReKall. Does he really get mixed up with a group of revolutionaries? Does his wife really try to kill him? Or is he simply catatonic and dreaming it all?

Director Len Wiseman (Beckinsale's husband) and Production Designer Patrick Tatopoulos are clearly fans of Ridley Scott's Bladerunner. The look of this movie more closely resembles that 1982 classic than it does the brightly lit 1990 Total Recall. Despite being derivative, the look works well, with the floating living levels adding some extra dimensions, particularly during the chase scenes.

Farrell does a decent, if unspectacular job in the lead. He has the looks and the build of a movie star, but his charisma seems kept in check by a lack of personality. His charm has always been of a roguish, wink at the audience nature, that is completely lacking here. Biel suffers even more. She looks good, but is given almost no personality whatsoever. Any attractive actress could have played her part.

It is Beckinsale who steals the movie. She brings some life to the proceedings as Quaid's homicidal, kickass wife. Her character is a combination of Sharon Stone's and Michael Ironside's from the original. She doesn't just beat up Quaid at the beginning of the story, she follows him throughout, kicking his and Biel's ass several times along the way and with relish. She brings a sense of fun to the plot that goes missing whenever she isn't onscreen.

Despite some plot holes and an overly serious tone, I still enjoyed this movie. The action, particularly the chase scenes, are well done. The production levels are high and it's a treat for the eyes. Sure, it's not a classic, but if you rewatch the original with objective eyes, you'll find out that it wasn't really either, that's just how we Rekall it.

Reviewed on: August 5th, 2012
Colin Farrell in Total Recall.

Colin Farrell in Total Recall.

I don't have any particularly fond memories of the original movie. I know I saw it when it first came out but I haven't watched it since. Perhaps I would have liked this movie even less if I was a huge fan of the Schwarzenegger version, but I doubt it. I found this movie to be completely by the numbers. It's technically proficient but lacking any heart and soul.

I agree with Scott about the cast. Colin Farrell is a boring cipher while Jessica Biel proves her lack of acting chops in a role that never stretches her meager talents. Kate Beckinsale alone seems to get the underlying campiness of the script. She makes a memorable screen villain and provides the only spark of entertainment in a movie that manages to be both over-the-top and dull at the same time.

The concept of an elaborate elevator-like tube that allows people to travel through the Earth's core to the other side of the planet is ridiculous. It seems to have been included only so the filmmakers could include a cool “gravity free” action sequence. Early in the movie they demonstrate the way it works and as soon as I saw the gravity-changing-directions concept I knew the climax of the movie would take place - at least partially - here.

The soldier/police look suspiciously similar to Star Wars' Storm Troopers (see photo). They share the same incredibly poor marksmanship as well. There are several scenes where the stars are standing somewhere when all of a sudden shots ring out and bullets fly past them into whatever wall is behind them. The stars then manage to get off several quick retaliatory shots that inevitably find their target. I realize they can't kill the stars off or the movie would be over, but they could have at least made the action a bit more realistic.

Visually, Total Recall washes over you as mindless entertainment. But it lasts too long and I never felt any emotional connection to any of the characters in it. In fact I've forgotten it already.

Reviewed on: August 8th, 2012
Kate Beckinsale steals Total Recall

Kate Beckinsale steals Total Recall

I agree whole heartedly that first and foremost, Kate Beckinsale is the best thing about the movie.  Patrick compared the soldiers to Stormtroopers, and I thought the very same thing.  There is even a scene where they appear just before a pissed off Beckinsale walks down a corridor.  It is very reminiscent of Darth Vader making an entrance.  I know action films never get acting award nominations but I would love to see her get a supporting one for this role.

The plot itself makes little sense.  SPOILER ALERT:  It is obvious that Douglas is not in Rekall.  The give away scene is the one that is supposed to create the most confusion.  When his old friend meets up with him and tells him that this is all in his head, we see a grieving Beckinsale acting like a concerned wife.  Hello!  In the "Rekall dream" Beckinsale is a ruthless determined killer.  Why would she act like that in his head?  That is how she would act in real life, not in Rekall.

I laughed when President Cohaagen announces that he must build up his army in the name of protecting citizens from further terrorist attacks. He is secretly doing it to start a war, not to protect any one from terrorist attacks that he himself orchestrated.  Protecting citizens was the excuse we were given for the Patriot Act?  Politicians debate new gun control laws after a mass shooting, in the name of protecting citizens.  When Obama could not get the Republicans to raise the national debt ceiling he claimed the government would have to shut down, thus affecting many social services.   Nothing lets a President get away with whatever he wants faster than exploiting a situation that threatens his citizen's way of life.  

As an action, popcorn summer movie, you could do far worse than Total Recall, but as my brothers wrote, other than Beckinsale's performance, it is destined to to slip from memory faster than your freedom during war time.

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