Total Recall – Double Review

Here we go again. The question of ‘is this remake necessary?‘ is ubiquitous once again. For some, Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall starring Arnold Schwarzenegger is regarded a classic. So naturally, people are crying foul when director Len Wiseman announced he’s doing a remake 22 years after the original’s release in 1990. So today, Ted and I are looking into this from two different perspectives: He loves the original and has read the Philip K. Dick novel, while I can barely recall the original and hasn’t read the book.

Ted’s Review:

First off I would like to state that I love the original version of Total Recall and I also read the short story by Phillip K. Dick which both films were loosely based on. For this review of the new film, I’m going to try my hardest not to compare this new film to the 1990 version or Dick’s short story.

The film opens in the future, they didn’t specify what year but according to the Sony’s official plotline, it’s set in the year 2084 and earth has suffered some sort of catastrophic chemical warfare and most of the planet are inhabitable except for two areas: a federation on the British isles and a colony which used to be Australia. You see the world has split into two societies, the rich lives in the federation and the poor lives in the slum looking colony.

Just like the original version, it begins with Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) having a bad dream and when he wakes up, he’s comforted by his gorgeous wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale). We learned that Quaid is not satisfied with his life, again he’s married to a woman who looks like Kate Beckinsale or in the original version, Sharon Stone, yet he’s still not happy? Seriously, come on now! Oh sorry I didn’t mean to go off track there. Anyways, we also learn that Quaid is a factory worker who dreams of moving up the ladder at his company. But because he’s from the colony, the company refuses to promote him. So one day a new co-worker of his heard him complained about his mundane life and told him about a place called Rekall, there he can make his dreams come true. After a couple of beers at a bar with his best friend Harry (Bokeem Woodbine), Quaid decided to drop by Rekall and get an exciting memory implant.

Once he’s at Rekall, he was given a few life style choices and he chose to get a memory as a secret agent. Before he gets the implants though, cops stormed into Rekall’s office and killed everyone except Quaid who we found out could handle himself. Then the rest of the film became a chase, first Quaid didn’t understand why his wife is now trying to kill him and then later he ran into another beautiful woman named Melina (Jessica Biel) who told him he’s not who he is.

First let’s get the good stuff out of the way, the film was beautifully shot and composed. The special effects were top notch and some of the action sequences were pretty great; I really enjoyed the car chase on the highway of the future (looks way too similar to the highway in Minority Report) and also the fight scene in an elevator. I would like to thank Wiseman for shooting action scenes that we can actually see instead of the usual handheld shaky style that’s been popular lately in action films.

Unfortunately those are the only good things I can say about this remake. The film lacks originality, wit and humor. The futuristic world looks so much like other (much better) sci-fi films that came before it. I imagine Wiseman goes into a meeting with his production designer and visual effect guys and said “Look I want to copy every other sci-fi films, so make the cities look like they’re from Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, Minority Report or i, Robot. Then make the robots, cars and jets looks like something out of Star Wars prequel.” Now I don’t mind people copying other films, so long as their story and characters are interesting. Well Wiseman failed on those areas too. Since I’ve seen the original so many times, I found the plot in this version to be boring and uninteresting.

I also didn’t care for any of the characters, I felt Ferrell’s Quaid was just running around trying to save his own ass and then Biel’s Melina was just the typical damsel in distress, yes she can handle herself but in the end, Quaid still has to come to her rescue. As for Beckinsale, well she’s way too hot for me to take her seriously as a killing machine. It was a mistake for the filmmakers to combined the characters of Lori and Richter from the original into one. You’re probably wondering why I haven’t mention the main villain of the film yet, well to be honest he’s not worth mentioning. You don’t really know much about Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) except that he’s the guy in charge of the federation and he’s evil, plain and simple. I don’t blame the actors for not being interesting, the writers didn’t give them much to work with.

To me another mistake the filmmakers made was to do direct remake of Verhoeven’s film instead of reinvent the story. I mean they could’ve followed the original short story and maybe it could’ve been a much better film. Even though this remake has bigger budget and ten times better special effects, the film felt small in scope compare to Verhoeven’s version. Again I think it’s the filmmakers’ fault for not trying something new. Also, they took the material way too seriously, for a summer action film, I couldn’t find one single humorous scene in it.
I really wanted to enjoy this film but in the end I found it to be joyless, repetitive and not creative at all. I’m not saying it’s a bad film, I was just bored with it.

If you’ve never seen the original version, then you might enjoy it. But if you ask me, I’d tell you to skip this one and see the original instead.

2 out of 5 reels

Ruth’s Review

I always love a good sci-fi and truthfully, I think having seen the filmmaker and cast at last year’s Comic-con might’ve elevated my enthusiasm for this movie. So when my hubby got a 2-for-in deal from VISA, we though, eh what the heck.

Since Ted already covered the plot, I’m only going to talk about how I feel about the film. Well, there’s really not much praise I can say about this movie. It’s too bad as the premise from the great mind of Philip K. Dick offers soooo much potential. The whole notion that the earth is now barren except Great Britain (The United Federation of Britain or UFB for short) and Australia (The Colony) is quite intriguing. And visually it’s quite a feast for the eyes, the ‘downtown’ area of UFB looks convincingly gritty, yet the aerial view shows a sleek, futuristic city of the year 2084. It reminds me of Blade Runner, but much, much sleeker, obviously CGI technology has come a long way since 1982.

The transportation system called ‘The Fall’ that goes through the planet’s core to travel from the two main regions are pretty cool looking and so are those super awesome hovercrafts! I LOVE the hovercraft chase scenes, especially that part when Farrell’s character disengage the vehicle from the hanging track, causing it to plummet thousands of feet below. It doesn’t quite match the truck vs. batpod in The Dark Knight of course, but still it was fun to watch. But aside from a few fun action sequences, this movie is pretty darn boring.

Acting-wise it’s lackluster as well, and I blame that on the flimsy script as Colin Farrell is actually a pretty decent actor. Somehow he’s just devoid of charisma here, in fact, he’s much more memorable in his brief scenes chasing Tom Cruise in another Philip K. Dick’s adaptation Minority Report than the he is running around for 2 whole hours here. Practically the entire time I was watching this, I was plagued with this de-ja-vu-ish feelings that I’ve seen all this before in different sci-fi movies, but done in much more compelling way. Kate Beckinsale, Wiseman’s ultra-gorgeous wife, is only there for mere eye candy. I mean her character — a kick-ass cop who NEVER has a bad hair day in her life despite having to wake up in the middle of the night to report to work — is so absurd that it’s borderline comical. She can practically leap from building to building in 10-inch heels as if she’s some bio-engineered robots and even with my suspension-of-disbelief cap screwed on tight, it’s still hard to imagine she had been playing Quaid’s loving wife for seven years.

Believe it or not, the only person who provides a little bit of emotional resonance is Jessica Biel’s character Melina, who claims to be Quaid’s girlfriend before his memory implant. At least I sympathize a bit with Melina in her struggle to get her boyfriend to figure out his real identity again, though at times she does appears more like a damsel-in-distress like Ted pointed out. Cranston was pretty much wasted as a one-dimensional villain, and Bill Nighy fares even worse! I mean, he’s actually more memorable getting his vampiric face slashed in Underworld, I mean come on!!

Overall it’s just a bland and vapid adaptation that offers no redemptive value whatsoever. Even those seemingly frivolous Summer superhero flicks have more purpose than the protagonist in this movie. Quaid seems only interested to save his own behind while at the same time trying to prevent the evil bad dude Cohageen from invading the entire planet with his robot army.

So in the end, though I don’t have fond memories of the original, I still agree with Ted’s rating on this one. Good thing we’ve got a pair of cheap tickets to see this, as it’s only worth a rental at best. Now I can see why Ted lists Len Wiseman in his list of hack directors in Hollywood!

2 out of 5 reels


Do you agree/disagree with our assessment of this movie? Let’s hear it in the comments!

45 thoughts on “Total Recall – Double Review

  1. Great reviews! I agree, one of the worst offenses was the under-utilization of Bill Nighy. A few more scenes with him easily would have elevated the production.

    Sure Kate Beckinsale was unbelievably beautiful, but who isn’t, in movies? And she did pretty well with the fight scenes; in real life I’d put my money on Jessica Biel but I thought Beckinsale pulled it off really well. Though I think her “dramatic” switch to a British accent would have worked better if… ANYONE else in the UFB had a British accent. I think there were one or two guards/extras with an accent and that was it; not even Cohaagen had one.

    (BTW she wasn’t pretending to be his wife for 7 years, that’s just the fake memory they gave Quaid. She was with him for 6 weeks :)

    I’m always surprised to hear people liked the idea of the Fall. The moment they said they traveled through the earth’s core I just rolled my eyes, and the actual scenes down there (climbing along the outside of it… IN THE CENTER OF THE EARTH) were even more ridiculous.

    • I know!! He was much more utilized in Underworld but he was ‘blink and you missed him’ here. Oh yeah, in real life I think Biel would’ve knocked Beckinsale off in a matter of seconds. Just look at her buff biceps and shoulders, that girl is ripped! Yep, that British accent is silly as nobody else had that accent, not even Bill Nighy!

      Ah right about the marriage thing, doesn’t matter, even 6 weeks is still hard to believe :)

      Well of course scientifically it’s ludicrous, but it’s science-FICTION so the idea is pretty cool. You’re right though, nobody could ever be hanging off on the outside of that thing and live to tell about it, ahah.

  2. 2084 was mentioned during the opening written narration.

    I thought “Wow! I can actually see what’s going on!” during the action scenes. I’m glad you mentioned it here.

    • Oops! I must’ve missed that when I saw the film. Yeah that’s probably one of the few things that Wiseman did right, he shot the action scenes properly.

  3. Ted, you say you would try to avoid comparisons to the original. That must have been tough given how the remake has almost nothing new to offer. I commend you for even attempting to not compare them.

    Ruth, it feels me with great joy that even those who did not love the original find the remake poor as well.

    • Ha ha, yeah it was hard trying not to compare it to the original film, but the filmmakers didn’t make it easy for me since they basically made a carbon copy of the older film. I went in hoping at least it could be a fun action film but they failed on that too, everything seemed so serious in the film. At least the original had some fun with the material.

      If you ever picked up the re-release of the original film on Blu-ray, watch the interview with Paul Verhoeven. He said he decided not to make the original film too serious because his leading man was Arnold and he knew Arnold has limitations when it comes to acting. It’s a great interview.

  4. Oh dear. Good reviews guys, I enjoyed reading them. As a big fan of the original I know I will end up picking holes in this one.

    • Boring and uninspired is right. Even Colin seems like he’s sleepwalking in this one, the only one who seems um, energetic is Kate, perhaps ’cause her hubby is behind the camera, ahah.

  5. I’m a bit gutted that this is being slated, I was really looking forward to it but from what I’ve seen this year, things are not holding up. I actually thought 2011 was a great year for film’s but there are so many stinkers this year already. Great reviews guys.

  6. Hi, Ted, Ruth and company:

    Excellent critiques and reviews!

    Maybe it’s just me, but this new and improved(?) ‘Total Recall’ sure looks and feels like a project where the cast and crew are playing second fiddle and servicing the remarkable Special Effects. Instead of the other way around.

    Colin Farrell is a decent enough actor, but I think I’ll wait for DVD on this one.

    • I think you’re right Jack, second fiddle to SFX is NEVER a good thing. I do like Colin generally but he really is so ho-hum in this.

  7. “Bland and Vapid” is right.

    Glad to see you two are in harmony here. I’m right there with you. This movie certainly was lackluster. It “lacked luster” in all regards.

    I agree with Ted that the car chase is one of the film’s highlights, I actually did enjoy that segment.

    Ruth, why no fond memories of the original? Have you not seen it, or you didnt like it?

    • Oh I just couldn’t recall much of it for whatever reason. It’s weird what movies I remember vividly and which ones I don’t. So it’s not because I didn’t like it.

  8. Ruth, I couldn’t agree with you more. I have felt this bored watching a movie since the third Transformers film. Not to mention that I was a bit sleepy, but I couldn’t stop yawning. It offered very little action scenes that really blow you away. After the movie, I couldn’t help but think how much I enjoyed the original film. Overall, a big disappointment for me.

    • Hi Raul! Ahah, well good thing I skipped the last two Transformers movies but I expected a bit more with this one. I mean at least I thought it’d be entertaining even if the story is sub-par y’know. So far I haven’t heard anyone praising this movie.

    • Ahah, I really thought I’d provide a positive review after Ted gave his, but the more I think about it the more I dislike the movie.

  9. Fine double look at the film, Ruth and Ted. I rate it a bit higher, mostly for Colin’s and Kate’s performances in the film. For me, they’re the reason I was entertained, at least for the duration, of the film. I think those who’ve not seen Verhoeven’s audacious and muscular sci-fi action classic would like it — some at my screening actually clapped at the end. Yes, this pales with the original, mostly for the filmmakers’ attempts to keep everything at a PG-13 rating. Thanks, guys.

    p.s., Bryan Cranston was singularly wasted in this. I am actually wondering if there’s a real good villain performance laying on the cutting room. UNRATED cut in our future, perhaps?

    • Thanks Michael, I didn’t mind the performances, I just thought the writers didn’t give them much to do. As if the screenplay went like this: Quaid runs and shoot and look confuse throughout, Lori – looks mean and try to kill Quaid, Melina – try to help Quaid but also look sad but can kick ass too.

      It seems the screenwriters were just afraid to come up with something new to offer, now of course maybe the studio people told them not to change much from the original film.

      Yep Cranston was a waste here. I’m pretty sure we’ll get a director’s or extended cut of the film once it hits BD later this winter. They usually do that to films that failed in theaters.

  10. Excellent reviews! I may catch it on DVD because I love gorgeous babes kicking ass and while Beckinsale is not much of an actress she is very hot. Biel on the other hand…the only decent movie I saw with her was London. Also Cranston – these filmakers should pay money as penalty for underusing him, he is such a terrific actor and the only movie I saw him in where he had something to do was Drive.

    • Well you won’t be disappointed on that front Sati, Beckinsale is gorgeous indeed. Oh I haven’t seen London yet, but y’know, she’s not as bad as I originally thought as she was good in Easy Virtue w/ Colin Firth. Ahah, I like what you said about paying penalty for under-utilizing a good actor!

  11. I might rent this but yea, I didn’t expect this to blow anyone away. For the most part in their careers, Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel & Kate Beckinsale have the equivalent of appealing wallpaper so I didn’t have much hope for this to begin with. Add the fact that Arnie basically WAS the first Total Recall and there wasn’t much hope for this to be more than a pale imitation.

    • I didn’t expect to be blown away, but didn’t expect to be bored either. Arnie is not a good actor but he’s got screen presence, I give him that. Colin for some reason is devoid of charm in this one.

  12. Great reviews! I honestly had high hopes for this one. The trailer capitalized on the gorgeous visuals and made it look like an exciting actioner. Such a shame that it wasn’t. Haven’t seen the original either but I have no love for Ahnold.

    • Ahah, no love for Ahnold? Well I used to like him a lot more but he’s quite good in some movies, mostly in fun action stuff like True Lies and obviously Terminator. The movie doesn’t quite live up to the exciting trailer.

  13. Great reviews! I might actually see this soon, even if it is only recommended for a rental. I liked the original, and I’m a big Colin Farrell fan, so I’ll probably see it in theaters.

  14. I still haven’t seen the original, but I actually have the DVD sitting at home. Sounds like I should just stick to that one and not bother with yet another lousy remake.

    • Yeah that’s my recommendation, watch the original and if you feel the need to see the remake, give a rent. To me the remake was just a dumb down version of the original; I’m not saying the 1990 version was super intelligent but it tried to be smart about the material.

  15. Pingback: Weekly Weblinks: Reboots, Remakes, and Recall | Morgan on Media

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