Len Wiseman, the director of this film, struck success with the Underworld movies (featuring vampires and werewolves), after cutting his teeth on PlayStation advertisements and music videos. His style-centric approach to film-making produces great trailers and screen grabs, and he provides good arguments for why we should spend fifteen dollars at the cinema as opposed to waiting for the DVD.
After watching the trailers for Total Recall it’s clear that the visual polish is not lacking. What we don’t know is whether this is a 2-hour music video, or whether it has all the other bits to make it a good, watchable film.
Plot-wise, without giving too much away, this is definitely a rewrite of the original 1990 version, or at least a rewrite of the concept. Colin Farrell replaces Arnold Schwarzenegger as the guy who’s bored with his life and becomes tempted by Total Rekall, a technology outfit that can insert new memories into your brain to make your past more interesting. We watch him go about his daily nine-to-five, griping about the endless routine, and then we watch him take soulful walks through the streets of the futuristic Australian city. The city itself has been realised in quite breath-taking detail. Special effects like this are now par for the course but they’re very impressive, nonetheless.
Down in the bustling streets we’re treated to a rather convincing vision of life amid humanoid robot prostitutes and new communication technologies. It’s a bit like Blade Runner, but it rings more true. It’s a shame the movie didn’t spend more time exploring this interesting new world. Instead, it quickly starts dishing up the action.
From this point onwards, we start having quite hefty demands made of our suspended disbelief. There is something that good action does that in retrospect is quite a fine art. Rules can be broken if you can be made to not care that they’re broken. The difference between a convincing action sequence and an unbelievable one is not whether it could actually happen (because let’s face it, they never can). It’s whether you can be tricked into thinking it could happen, or whether you’re caring too much about something else to notice. At times Total Recall successfully pulls this magic trick off, and we get some very cool moments. Unfortunately, for far too much of the time we’re fighting the persistent drone of disbelief in the back of our minds. It takes a long time to recover from an “Oh, come on” moment, and this movie lays them one on top of the other.
It really is unfortunate because neither Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale or Jessica Biel are ever too annoying, and the story provides a few genuinely interesting turns. When the action isn’t breaking the laws of physics it’s great. But like all those sad blockbusters before it, plausibility is playing second fiddle to spectacle, and it bleeds any real power out of the film.
Those fans of the original will remember a light-hearted popcorn flick that you were never asked to take too seriously. They will also remember that tied up in the machinery of the Rekall memory implantation was something of a get-out-of-jail-free card for anything too far-fetched in the movie.
Let’s just say that this version may-or-may-not have the same crutch to support it. Without it, the movie simply doesn’t stand up. If you decide it has the crutch then you may find yourself forgiving it all its sins, in which case, like the original, there’s nothing really wrong with it at all. See it, but only if you’re a forgiving person.