Movie Review: Total Recall

When I heard there were plans to remake the 1990 Schwarzenegger sci-fi flick Total Recall, my reaction was the same as just about everyone else’s: WHY?!?! The main thing Total Recall had going for it, like most Schwarzenegger movies, was Arnold Schwarzenegger. He’s not the most subtle thespian, but there’s no denying Arnold has charisma. Schwarzenegger’s enthusiasm to commit to even the most absurd roles is admirable, and his irrepressible Austrian-tinged delivery has immortalized many an otherwise forgettable line (some favorites from Total Recall include “Consider that a divorce!”, “Get your ass to Mars” and “These people need airtotalrecall!”) Total Recall was one of the original sci-fi mindbenders (it’s based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, the guy whose books inspired Blade Runner, Minority Report and A Scanner Darkly), but mostly it was campy, cheesy, goofy fun. The climactic scene where Arnold lies flailing on the surface of Mars while he waits for the planet to be terraformed literally before his eyes has to be one of the ten most ridiculous scenes in the history of cinema, and it’s AWESOME.

I avoided seeing the remake until now because I’d heard it was a pale copy of the original (“He never even goes to Mars!” was a common complaint), but I think these criticisms are mostly unfounded. No movie could ever duplicate the formula of the original Total Recall, and the remake, to its credit, doesn’t try. It trades Schwarzenegger for Colin Ferrell, Sharon Stone for Kate Beckinsale, and the mutant carnival of Mars for a Blade Runner-esque post-apocalyptic Earth. Basically, the remake tries to be what Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies are to Tim Burton’s: a gritty, darker, more literal retelling of the same story. It doesn’t quite succeed at that, but it’s a noble attempt. I particularly enjoyed the clever riffing the remake does on elements of the original: for example, rather than a tracking device embedded in his skull, Colin Ferrell’s Quaid has a cell phone embedded in his hand. He finds out when his palm unexpectedly starts ringing. Surprise! And there is, of course, the obligatory triple-breasted prostitute. You can get away with a version of Total Recall that doesn’t take place on Mars, but God forbid you leave out the triple-breasted prostitute.

There are some great action sequences (Ferrell propelling himself through zero-gravity with a machine gun while riddling bad guys with bullets was particularly enjoyable), and the visuals of the film are top-rate, if somewhat grim and more than a little derivative of Blade Runner. To complain that this movie isn’t the original seems a little silly to me. If you really want to be a purist, you could complain that neither movie is anything like “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”, the story on which both are supposedly based. But frankly Hollywood has done pretty well by Philip Dick, taking what works and leaving out what doesn’t (or at least what wouldn’t work on the big screen). Total Recall is no exception. It’s certainly not as much fun as the original, but it’s enjoyable in its own right.

Three out of five stars.



3 Comments on Movie Review: Total Recall

  1. Gotta say I had the same reaction:
    1) What was so great about the original, anyway?
    2) This remake wasn’t any worse than the original. It’s a new version for a new generation.

    I kind of liked the hat tipping to Blade Runner. I thought the climactic standoff in the lobby (the “This is all a dream, dude. Put your guns down and let us help you.” scene ) was better in the remake. What I didn’t like was how half the movie was a frantic chase scene between Kate Beckinsale and Colin Ferrell. The action was exciting, but after a while I was wondering if the movie was going to have any substance.

  2. I love the original, and from your description it sounds like I would hate the new one. I was already suspicious of it because it has the same washed-out blue-green palette from every movie today, but…he doesn’t go to Mars? The remake doesn’t even try to duplicate what worked in the original? It wants to be darker and grittier? No thanks. ☺

    • It’s definitely not as much fun as the original, and there isn’t really enough substance there for it to be a successful “serious” sci-fi flick. But it’s still worth watching, IMHO.

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