For the record, Total Recall may refer to eidetic memory, also known as photographic memory, but is more commonly associated with Paul Verhoeven’s barnstorming, Arnie, popcorn monster, sci-fi movie of 1990. Less than a quarter century later we get this Len Wiseman / Colin Farrell version, that no-one asked for.
The more literary minded of you might recollect that Total Recall was based on “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” a short story by Philip K. Dick (the man behind Blade Runner) first published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in April 1966. Dick’s Total Recall is a story that deals with a melding of reality, memory (false and real). Comparisons between the films and book are somewhat redundant once you get past the basic premise. In the book Douglas Quail, a very ordinary man, wishes to visit Mars, but because he is unable to afford it, visits REKAL Incorporated, a company that offers “implanted memories”. The implanted Mars memories reveal that Quail is an undercover government assassin with a mind full of dangerous secrets (or maybe the implants just work really well). The Dick story deals with a plethora of “what ifs”, while the Arnie movie dealt purely in crash bangs, three breasted women and severed arms.
2012’s Total Recall pretty much fails the direct comparison test across the board. It was directed by Len Wiseman (no Verhoeven), it was written by Mark Bomback, James Vanderbilt, and Kurt Wimmer (no one really cares about the script), and as for the stars; Colin Farrell (is a decent actor but no Arnie), Kate Beckinsale as the deceitful wife (is no Sharon Stone) and no film is stronger for NOT having a Michael Ironside in it.
The story is dully familiar and the action scenes have been done so much better, so many times before. Remakes, reboots, re-duxs, re-cuts, re-issues (whatever you want to call these things) should only, ONLY be attempted is they bring something new to the party. Total recall (2012) seems content to bring a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 to the party, in some sparkly wrapping paper.
Systematic of Total Recall’s failing is Kate Beckinsale. Beckinsale plays Quaid’s phoney wife Sharon Stone, sorry, “Lori”. After being uncovered as an enemy agent, she spends the rest of the film tartly attempting divorce by murder. Beckinsale is one of those actresses who becomes more watchable the less likeable her character is. However as a spouse from hell, she never rises above the level of simple “cow”, when she would have scored an ace as 100% harridan. The flip side of the love interest coin is Jessica Biel, who plays Quaid’s “real” love, the heroic rebel fighter Melina. Sadly she’s equally uninspiring. When the inevitable “adolescent pleasing” bitch-fight happens, the only people on the edge of their seats where the ones getting out their phones to see how long was left.
To say that Total Recall is one of the better Len Wiseman films is faint praise indeed (I still haven’t forgiven him for Van Helsing). The fact that “Lenny” is considered an A-list director meant that Total Recall should have been an A-list event. It’s simply not, with the pomp, with the expectation, with the pedigree, with the new technology available and with the spectre of Arnie (he does cast a long shadow) Total Recall is a C+ film at best. You’d have to pay me to remember this pointless flop wholesale.