'Total Recall' provides sexy new memories to enjoy

August 12, 2012
Colin Farrell stars in the remake of "Total Recall."

It's fitting that "Total Recall" was slated to be released around the same time NASA was getting ready to (successfully) touch down on Mars. It's as though director Len Wiseman wisely dropped the subplot from the Philip K. Dick short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" and the 1990 film (this film is based on both), and left it in the skilled hands of the real-life professionals.

Narratively, it helps the film as well. Much more has been discovered about the Red Planet since the story's 1966 publication, and when director Paul Verhoeven took Arnold Schwarzenegger there in the 1990 film, it dipped its campier elements. Perhaps the new NASA Curiosity rover will alter our perception of our celestial neighbor, but for the film's sake, keeping it in a post-apocalyptic Earth was a wise decision.

The 2012 remake certainly uses the 22-year-old film for a template almost more than the source material. It also borrows its sci-fi aesthetic heavily from Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner," with other portions from Luc Besson's "The Fifth Element" and "The Matrix," as well as Wiseman's own "Underworld" franchise. And while some may cry rip-off, at least he's borrowing from some of the best.

The result is not quite the unholy mess you might think it may be, and it establishes its own identity early enough to successfully operate comfortably in its own universe. It's not without flaws, but it treats its subject matter much more straight-facedly than its predecessor and stages a number of expertly crafted chase sequences in the process. It's all pared down to a lean, science-fiction version of a Jason Bourne film.

And speaking of pared down, the director decided to do away with the lead Douglas Quaid as an eruption of muscle that was Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime. He's now played by the much more sleek and agile Colin Farrell, who seems more than game for the task.

Quaid is a working stiff on a futuristic Earth that has been reduced to two habitable locales, which are at odds. The United Federation of Britain is a prosperous-but-ominous continent where citizens enjoy days of labor under strict ruler Cohaagen (played by Bryan Cranston), while those in The Colony (née Australia) must travel via express elevator through the Earth's core to UFB to work menial tasks to survive.

Quaid longs for a better life as he sits reading James Bond books during his 17-minute (!) trek through the globe. He asks his buddy (played by Bokeem Woodbine) about Rekall, a place that plants memories into your brain to help you escape the mundane existence of life. He's immediately dissuaded and told to enjoy the fact that he has a beautiful wife (played by Kate Beckinsale) and a job that pays, so it's best not to rock the boat.

But Rekall's siren song is too strong, and Quaid wanders in for a visit. Moments before he is to undergo the procedure, though, the place is stormed by federal agents demanding Quaid come with them. The result, as seen in the trailers, is Quaid unleashing a balletic, bullet-ridden dance that leaves him the only man standing. This surprises even him, and the rest of the film is spent deciphering just what in his mind is the truth and what has been implanted.

For those unfamiliar with either source, there will be much to enjoy with this version, as Wiseman keeps the narrative surging with action sequences that are creative and some of the best he's committed to screen. It helps that he's enlisted his real-life wife Beckinsale as one of the leads, as she is no stranger to the rigors of an action film. Jessica Biel is the other female lead and she's...also in the film (sorry, Biel fans, after all her roles through the years, she has failed to register much of a presence).

Farrell, turns out, is the perfect choice to play Quaid, as he possesses the skills to lift both the dramatic and physical heft of the film. His sad-eyed look of befuddlement is well suited for someone unsure of his own identity.

And while you may recall seeing it all before, it doesn't mean that it's not done well this time. I know the original is held with reverence by some, but futuristic science fiction is a tough genre in terms of shelf life, and the 1990 film is quite moldy. So, going with the film's premise, what better way to supplant those musty memories than with some new, sleek and sexy ones?

And perhaps in another few decades, NASA's Curiosity will provide us with insight to make it fresh all over again.