Total Recall

Colin Farrell replays the old identity game.


Total Recall is a two-hour-long chase scene that leaves you breathless. I wish I could say that's a recommendation. Please note that I don't.

The picture is a remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, which was likewise an inflation of a very short 1966 sci-fi story by Philip K. Dick. Dick's knotty tale involves a man who longs to go to Mars, and also to be a super-spy. Knowing he'll never be able to do those things, he decides to allow realer-than-real memories of them to be implanted in his brain. In the process of having this done he discovers that he has already been to Mars, and that he already is a super-spy. Brain-twisting reality complications ensue.

The new movie, directed by Len Wiseman (founder of the tedious Underworld franchise), tosses out the earlier film's Mars element and ladles in some brazen cinematic appropriations—the trashed-out urban rainscape of Blade Runner, the deposit box filled with cash and passports from The Bourne Identity, a herd of hard-shelled Star Wars-style storm troopers, even a passing bit of weightless business lifted from 2001. If only Wisemen had borrowed some of those movies' style and fun, or at least coherence.

The original movie looks dated today, but it still offers some snazzy pre-digital effects and of course Schwarzenegger's enjoyable self-parodying performance. Wiseman's more expensive approach surrounds the nonstop running-around with floor-to-ceiling CGI, buttressed with homelier matte and modeling effects; and his star, Colin Farrell (wasted in this clamorous claptrap), is buried in all the overwrought technology.

Farrell takes over the Schwarzenegger role of Douglas Quaid, a factory drone in a post-apocalyptic world composed of only two habitable areas: the prosperous United Federation of Britain and, on the other side of the world, the grubbier Colony (possibly Australia, hard to say). Quaid and his fellow workers commute from the UFB to their jobs in the Colony in a fantastical subway that takes them straight down through the Earth's core (not the broiling experience you might expect). Quaid is a poor man living in a photogenic slum, but he does have a beautiful wife named Lori (Kate Beckinsale, Wiseman's wife and the star of his Underworld films). Still, he yearns for a more exciting life. So he makes an appointment at the Rekall clinic to be fitted out with synthetic memories of having been a top espionage agent—a spy who defected from the UFB regime of the evil Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston, of Breaking Bad) to join a resistance movement led by one Matthias (Bill Nighy, another overqualified Underworld vet).

As before, everything goes wrong. After single-handedly wiping out a dozen government troopers, Quaid rushes home. There he discovers that Lori…well, she's not really who he thought she was. After a wild fight scene, the chasing begins. Quaid is suddenly scooped up by a Colony resistance fighter named Melina (heavily holstered Jessica Biel). There's a long pursuit, followed by much more pursuing, finally leading to the Colony itself, where the pursuits continue. (Unfortunately, the only one appearing to enjoy all of this is Beckinsale, who's in top form throughout in regulation skin-tight pants.)

A lot of the digital action effects—like the long chase-battle on a hovercraft freeway, and the long chase-battle in a plunging elevator—are executed with a great deal of craft; and even the familiar soggy environments are certainly atmospheric. But there's so much of this stuff, and so much of it is disorientingly ill-defined, that a haze of fakery soon gathers around the proceedings, and never disperses.

Wiseman has eliminated a number of memorable characters who appeared in the first film (although the three-breasted hooker survived the cut). And while he has added new dialogue, some of it almost defies utterance. ("The past is a construct of the mind," one character says. "The heart wants to live in the present.")

The movie wasn't screened for the media until two days before it opened—almost always a bad sign. One can imagine that the studio knows it has a dog on its hands and is just hoping the picture can hoover up some money in its opening weekend, before The Bourne Legacy takes over the box office next Friday. Raise your wallet if you'd like to help out.


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  1. But how does the Asian chick with three tits look, Kurt? C’mon man! Why do you think we read your reviews???


    1. I like you. That’s why I’m going to kill you last.

      1. “What happened to Sully?”
        “I let him go.”

        1. Doesn’t make any sense. What’s a priest doing shooting at a Wall Street banker?

    2. “Do you think you could have found something bigger?”

    3. If it bleeds we can kill it

  3. so this is what passes for H’wood creativity these days – let’s do a remake but instead of an action movie with one of the day’s box office leaders, we’ll recycle a guy whose scary factor is even harder to take seriously than us doing a remake.

    1. It is amazing that nobody in Hollywood has read any Niven, Drake, Ringo, Simmons, or (until recently) George RR Martin.

      1. The Integral Trees would be relatively cheap to film. The whole thing could be done on wires in front of green screens.

        Okay, maybe CGI generating everything isnt cheap, I dont know, but its a doable movie, unlike, say, 20 years ago.

        1. Of course, the name would have to go. Call it The Smoke Ring but use the plot from book 1.

          1. That would be pretty cool. I always thought “Footfall” would be 100 times better than Independence Day if they left the funny in it.

            “A Hymn Before Battle” would be the greatest movie ever made if done right.

            “Hammers Slammers” or “March Upcountry” would be the greatest HBO series ever.

            …As long as none of them get the Starship Troopers fuck over.

            1. “A Hymn Before Battle” would be the greatest movie ever made if done right.


        2. The Integral Trees? Why not Ringworld? How about Inferno? How about A World ot of Time?

          The Smoke Ring stories are too meh.

          1. I’m thinking Inferno would not go over so well given that it is not particularly flattering of religion or several other groups.

            Footfall however would be awesome, especially if they spread it over 3 10 episode seasons on cable tv based show (like Game of Thrones)

        3. It would be terrible.

          Pretty much all of Niven’s books are unfilmable as movies.

          Some of his short stories on the other hand….

      2. What’s funny is that they option great sci-fi and fantasy novels all the time. They just rarely get made into movies.

    2. If you wanted to do a CGI-heavy sci fi thing, I personally think Dan Simmons Hyperion would be a good starting point.

      1. My favorite series in any genre. Definitely needs to be an HBO series not a movie though. Especially the first book, with its Canterbury tales narrative structure.

        1. I agree. Very difficult to adapt to a feature film. It’s actually in development now, but what little is known about it makes it sound like they were planning to play up the horror angle with the Shrike.

      2. I would go with “Ilium” first. I think “Hyperion” would lose too many people. Most are probably more familiar with the Trojan War.

      3. Yeah sure…the ending is a bunch of people skipping to the tune of the wizard of oz with absolutely no resolution as to any of the 6 or more plots.


  4. How long before the Running Man reboot? You could have Simon Cowell play the Richard Dawson part and Matt Damon basically play Jason Borne in the Arnold part.

    1. Running Man? That’s way to complicated for Hollywood craptacular recyclers. Personally, I’m betting on the reboot of Judge Dredd first.

      1. Perhaps you’re being sarcastic, but if you didn’t already know, you’re too late:

        1. i had no idea. probably better that way.

        2. No.

          Of course it’s a drug war story, with Karl Urban doing his best Christian Bale impersonation.


    2. Stop it. Just stop it.

    3. You actually could pull off a Running Man reboot by doing the novel instead of the film.

      Instead of some kind of weird stadium, the Running Man is loose somewhere in the US. And everyone else is competing to see who can catch or kill him and post it to YouTube. Hijinks ensue.

      1. Not that I’ve read or watched it, but isn’t that just The Hunger Games?

        1. more like an evil version of 1 vs. 100 i think, or hollywood squares.

        2. More like death race 2000.

      2. Yeah, that could work… they would definitely have to change the ending, though. Zero chance of that making it into a movie.

      3. Reminds me of a movie I kept meaning to see called Series 7, IIRC. It was a reality TV show where the contestants killed each other. Our protagonist was the now-pregnant winner of the previous series.

    4. The Hunger Games is close enough to a Running Man remake that they might as well not bother.

  5. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Someone else made that happen. Not God bless America, God DAMN America!

  6. See you at da party!

    1. Get ready for a big surprise!

      1. Cohaagen! Give those people aiyah!

        1. Two weeks.

    2. Relax. You’ll live longer.

  7. “The past is a construct of the mind,” one character says. “The heart wants to live in the present.”

    So my nostalgia for the original Total Recall is a construct of my mind?

    1. Your heart wants to see Colin Farrell run around in tight pants.

  8. I would rather become a Brony and watch a MLP marathon than support this crap.

    1. Once you complete Step 1, I don’t think Step 2 becomes a chore anymore.

    2. You poor sick demented man

    3. Are you just looking for a way to justify your Bronyhood?

  9. the only one appearing to enjoy all of this is Beckinsale, who’s in top form throughout in regulation skin-tight pants.

    I thought you said you weren’t recommending this film.

    1. regulation skin-tight pants

      Where can I get a job as a skin-tight pants regulator?

      1. You have to come in on the bottom floor: Bikini Inspector.

        1. You have to come in on the bottom floor: Bikini Mankini Inspector.


  10. I’d like to see remake of 1984. Total Recall…not so much.


    1. Considah dis a divorce.

  12. Colin Farrell (wasted in this clamorous claptrap)

    Hey, man, he went to rehab!

  13. This is all I have to say about the movie.

  14. Philip K. Dick wrote some great stories that transcend the sci-fi genre. None of them were written as action books. They were thought provoking novels about time, Gnosticism, man’s relation to government, man’s relation to God, man’s relation to spirit, and even more.
    Most of Hollywood’s efforts to bring his stories to screen fail to reflect all those things.
    But it is interesting to note that there have been 11 movies made from his work. I wonder if any other authors have as high a number.
    Hopefully if they do “Valis,” or “Ubik,” they bring out his true intent.

    1. I haven’t counted, but there’s a pile of stuff from Elmore Leonard’s work. I wouldn’t be surprised to find eleven.

      1. Good one. Now that I think about it, Ian Fleming also.

    2. They did Ubik. It was called Vanilla Sky.

      1. Wow. Thanks for that, Coeus. I was not aware of that…I googled it and some people do think that is was the inspiration for Vanilla Sky. On my list to rent now.
        Thanks again.

        1. Watch the original “Abre los ojos (Open Your Eyes)” instead.

          1. OK, I will check that one out as well. Thanks, Joshua.

  15. Man I got five kids to feed!

  16. Beckinsale … in regulation skin-tight pants.

    Might be worth $10. OTOH, I can always just go rent Underworld from the nearest Redbox machine for a hell of a lot less, so…

    the three-breasted hooker survived the cut

    Of course she did. Wiseman knows his audience well, I’ll give him that.

  17. Weirdly, Kurt Loder liked the re-make of Arthur. I mention this every time I’m expected to take his film reviews seriously.

    1. I don’t know the fact that he seems to hate pretty much anything with any shred of mass market appeal is what I think of.

      He comes off to me as one of those snooty reviewers who doesn’t actually like movies looking down his nose at us pleebs who expect to actually be entertained for our money.

  18. It’s a beautiful movie. I love it.
    Paper Cram

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