My viewing of Total Recall, if I’m honest, didn’t get off to the most successful of starts. Sat in the cinema, as the lights dimmed, the trailers rolled by and the film itself at last began, the legend “Original Film” appeared on the screen, to which my response was a (perhaps inappropriately) loud:
“Original film? Hang on, this is a bloody remake!“*
Which isn’t a bad summation of the film as a whole. It’s a remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger film of the same name — and consequently an adaptation-by-proxy of SF master Philip K. Dick’s short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. Which might be okay, by itself. Remakes are irritating in their lack of originality, but are pretty vogue at the moment. But Total Recall doesn’t know if it wants to embrace its remake status, or be a cutting edge film in its own right.
The plot is somewhat changed from the original, but fundamentally the same. The future has gone all post-apocalyptic, and all that’s left is the United Federation of Britain (read western Europe) and the Colony (Australia). Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is a factory worker who is suffering bad dreams, and decides to go to a memory implantation clinic to live out some fantasies. And then his life goes off the deep end, and he ends up on the run from the police with no clear idea of who he is or what’s going on.
As a film, it’s visually very crowded and busy, with lots of futuristic stuff moving around all over the place. It’s all a bit exhausting to watch, really. From the moment that Quaid goes on the run, he literally never seems to stop. Pirates of the Carribbean: On Stranger Tides made the same mistake; not stopping to breath and leaving the audience tired and a little lost as a result.
In this light, I wonder if its proposed solution was that everything seems to be borrowed from other SF films of the last decade. It shares very much the feel of Minority Report and I, Robot, and even seems to borrow vast amounts from them. The army of robot “synthetics” could have been taken straight from I, Robot. The whole on the run with futuristic stuff felt incredibly reminiscent of Minority Report (possibly excused by it also being a PKD adaptation, but if we’re honest that’s not really good enough). And we have almost shot for shot a reproduction of the main character talking to somewhat-interactive expositionary hologram bit from I, Robot.
It felt lazy. And how precisely, when everyone is charging around, blowing stuff up, it manages to feel lazy is anyone’s guess. The fact that it starts with one of those “Here’s what the future is like” on-screen text paragraphs was an inauspicious start, but from then on it proceeds with a steadfast determination to shoot itself in the foot. I liked the idea that it wasn’t being trotted out in 3D, but having seen it I realise that the only reason was that 3D on top of all that visual busyness would have given audiences instant brain tumours.
This was not a good film and I do not recommend it. It lacked the self-depreciating silliness of the original, and spent far too much time trying to be other films. There was not a jot of originality there, and what could have been good themes and ideas were squandered.
The one and only way this film could be enjoyable, is if you imagine it as a sequel to Malcolm in the Middle, and Bryan Cranston’s bad guy is simply its protagonist grown up and turned evil. And if you think that’s a bit of a stretch, then you understand the lengths I had to go to to say anything positive at all.