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Zimbio Review - Another 'Total Recall,' Bigger, Louder, but Not Better

(Columbia Pictures | Getty Images)
The Bottom Line
Should you see it?

Redundant and bereft of the fun and ambiguity that made the first so successful, this remake works as a straight action movie but doesn't match the original's creativity.
Len Wiseman (the Underworld franchise) knows how to stage action sequences. He does not know how to tell a story. Tasked with remaking Paul Verhoeven's genre classic, Total Recall (1990), Wiseman chose to abandon everything fun and interesting about the original and simply blow stuff up for two hours. Fine and dandy, but it helps if a narrative leads the way. This new Total Recall is popcorn dynamite, beautiful-looking explosive action with zero heart.
Set at the end of the 21st century, Recall 2012 finds the world mostly uninhabitable, where real estate is the highest currency and the entire population lives in the UK and Australia. A giant metro system called "the Fall," tunneled through the Earth's core, shuttles workers back and forth. A cool concept, but the cool ideas are in short supply here. While the first Recall is a great satire of the genre while remaining a kick-ass action movie, the remake is simple-minded.

What separates the two films are the details. The highlights of the first — the alien bar, the red pill, the ugly stomach alien Kuato — are all glossed over here. Quaid does cut a phone out of his hand, a reinvention of the brain tracker scene from the original, but it's sadly one of the few instances that update old ideas. Without ruining the few others, the remake needs more creativity. Instead, it defaults to what works: antiseptic white rooms (2001: A Space Odyssey), futuristic billboards (Blade Runner), and glass touch screens (Minority Report).

Colin Farrell takes over the Douglas Quaid role Arnold Schwarzenegger made famous. The character (as written in We Can Remember It For You Wholesale by Philip K. Dick) is an ordinary dude in extraordinary circumstances, a staple of sci-fi storytelling. He lives quietly with his wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale), commutes to work with his best buddy Harry (Bokeem Woodbine), and reads James Bond novels. Farrell does a fine job with what he's given, and is physical enough to lead the fight scenes.

Quaid literally dreams of being a secret agent and yearns for more in his life. The film jumps to hyperspeed when he visits Rekall, a company that can implant memories in his mind for a virtual vacation. However, the procedure jogs Quaid's memory and he suddenly remembers he's actually a lethal double agent. Basically, he's Jason Bourne.

Now on the run, Quaid must figure out who he really is and what the hell is going on. Lori is suddenly his enemy, an agent who was on assignment as his wife. She leads the hunt for her hubby in a much expanded role from the first (played by Sharon Stone). Is nepotism rearing its ugly head? (Wiseman is married to Beckinsale.) Doubtful since this expansion is the one area where Wiseman has actually added something positive to the original character.

A resistance fighter named Melina (Jessica Biel) rescues Quaid and he recognizes her from his dream. They have a shared history and Biel's longing glances convey as much. But, for a tough girl, she sure likes to hold the hero's hand a lot. She takes him to the leader of the resistance, Matthias (Bill Nighy), where Quaid is welcomed as a hero, but before any other details emerge, Wiseman starts blowing everything up again.

Total Recall does feature some fantastic sets. The production design in general is amazing. The futuristic dwellings, stacked on top of each other reach out like arms into the sky and seem endless. The highways, bridges, and transportation are all designed logically. Some cars are attached to the road via magnets, smart technology that comes into play during a chase scene.

Wiseman's dystopian vision is sharp, especially the Fall, but the story doesn't slow down enough for us to get to know or care about the characters. More than that, it simplifies the most sophisticated aspects of the original. Schwarzenegger's Quaid is faith-based. He doesn't know what's reality and what isn't, a concept toyed with and lazily forgotten here. Opting instead for a narrow-minded action thriller, Wiseman has lost the intelligence that made the original one-of-a-kind.

See more photos of Jessica Biel:
  • Jessica Biel in Sony Preview - "Total Recall," "Looper" And "Eylsium" - Comic-Con International 2012
  • Jessica Biel in Jessica Biel Heads to Comic-Con
  • Jessica Biel in Celebs in the ESPY Awards Press Room
  • Jessica Biel in Jessica Biel at the Espy Awards
  • Jessica Biel in The 2012 ESPY Awards - Press Room
  • Jessica Biel in The 2012 ESPY Awards - Show
  • Jessica Biel in The 2012 ESPY Awards - Backstage & Audience
  • Jessica Biel in MTV Movie Awards 2012 - Arrivals
View Len Wiseman Pictures »
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