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Total Recall (2012) movie review

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So it’s Britain and yet almost everybody has American accents? Hmm.

Anyway, this remake was always going to find itself hard pushed to impress. The 1990 effort from director Paul Verhoeven and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger was hardly a classic (I mean, it is, but you know what I mean), but it was an enjoyable, occasionally silly action romp. It had a point to make about corporations exploiting normal everyday folk, and also had an interesting subtext about the nature of reality and the difference between dreams and the real world.

Visually this 2012 effort looks the part, exactly the sort of sprawling dystopia that Ridley Scott forced into our minds with Blade Runner. It’s also as far away from Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 Total Recall in almost every sense other than a similar plot and character names. And, to be fair, it’s less a remake than a reimagining.

And there’s no Mars.

Instead we have “The Fall”, a massive tunnel system that shunts workers from “The Colony”, aka Australia (could it be any more subtly racist?) to the United Federation of Britain. And it does so via the Earth’s core.

Somehow, getting your ass to Mars seems much more believable in that context.

Big names are summarily wasted in their roles. Bill Nighy shows up for all of five minutes, as does Ethan Hawke (in the Director’s Cut anyway – more on that in a moment). Bryan “Walter White” Cranston is a mostly impotent big bad, rocking up for a bit towards the end but otherwise contributing little. Kate Beckinsale, while it’s always nice to see her, appears to only have been cast because she’s married to the director (at the time anyway). She is, in essence, the real villain of the piece, the one with a direct link to Colin Farrell’s Doug Quaid and persistent in chasing him from one location to the next.

Jessica Biel is on the side of good, but could have easily been played by anybody. There’s just nothing there of any note or interest.

As for Colin Farrell, I’m not anywhere near as critical of his work as a lot of people out there. He’s perfectly serviceable in the role although everything he does is so serious that it almost becomes a parody of itself.

What this film is attempting is a commentary on class divide, the haves and the have nots. Very similar to Verhoeven in that respect, and for a dystopian world it’s a good starting point. What it fails to do is really get into the specifics of it, the detail that would cover precisely the same ground as Verhoeven’s version.

It seems the main difference between the two films is that Verhoeven has a good grasp on this method of storytelling. Len Wiseman does not.

The Director’s Cut proves to be a marginal improvement over the Theatrical Cut. Some extra context and character moments are added, but it’s still lacking that certain something that would make it a decent film. Getting rid of all the nods and references to the 1990 film would have been a good start. By all means, carve much more closely to the original story, but don’t pay homage to the other film. It’s this lack of confidence in its own message that really hamstrings the 2012 Total Recall.

And if you’re really not enjoying it, just enjoy counting all the S-bombs. I managed 19 in the Director’s Cut, but there might be a few more lingering there. Have a go at counting them yourself and let me know what you find.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Total Recall (2012)
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