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Movie Review: ‘Total Recall’

Total Recall

Starring: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, John Cho, Bokeem Woodbine and Bill Nighy

Directed by Len Wiseman
Rated PG-13



 Many people will be pre-disposed to dislike this film out of some bizarre loyalty to Paul Verhoeven and his 1990 original Total Recall.  I have no idea why.  The acting was cheesy and the special effects were, well, cheesy as well.  Back then our space program had society falsely believing in the possibility of creating a colony on the planet Mars, so it wasn’t strange to see it incorporated into a Syfy flick.  Director Len Wiseman re-imagined his version as a dystopian future that is firmly earth-based.  Many of the superb visuals reminded me of one of the greatest Syfy films of our time, Blade Runner.  It was probably not a coincidence as Total Recall is also based on a Phillip K. Dick story ("We Can Remember it for you Wholesale").  

Wiseman is well known for his action films (i.e. Underworld, Live Free or Die Hard) so you shouldn’t expect to see next year’s Oscar-winning Best Picture recipient.  Wiseman had a simple task to follow, create a new version that is non-stop action, has awesome special effects and give us some Hollywood eye candy that both sexes can enjoy during a date night at the movies.  Get the big bag of popcorn for this one and be prepared for a fun ride.


In Wiseman’s Recall, most of the world is uninhabitable due to a chemical weapons world war.  What’s left of humanity is holed-up in two territories, the wealthy United Federation of Britain (UFB) and the working class dregs of The ColonyThe Colony provides the cheap labor that supports a massive security force under the command of the duplicitous Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston).  The film starts out with Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) in a desperate attempt to escape some sort of detention center with a mysterious woman named Melina (Jessica Biel).  It’s a far removed reality from his normal “hum-drum” existence.  It doesn’t take long for him to wish he left well enough alone, but you wonder how he felt bored with a super-hot wife, Lori (Kate Beckensale).  Inspired by his dreams Quaid checks out a fringe company called ReKall that promises their customers realistic memories of adventure.  

As in the original, things go bad once Quaid is hooked up to the fantasy machine as the process triggers the suppressed personality of Hauser, secret agent come to life.  It also alerts a UFB security force that busts in to apprehend him.  The problem for them is “Hauser” has the skill set of a master assassin.  The subsequent chain of events leaves everyone dead, but Quaid.  A bigger problem for Quaid is the discovery that his lovely wife is actual a trained killer too and she works for the UFBQuaid is in full-out escape mode from a massive UFB army and the wife who wants to rush up the “til' death do us part” of their marriage vows.  When Quaid literally runs into the woman of his dreams, together they must somehow avoid being eliminated by the jilted wife and her minions and find the leader of the resistance (Bill Nighy) so he can extract a memory implant that can lead the resistance to victory over the soon-to-be-invading synthetic army of the UFB.


While the storyline, secret agent being hunted by forces of evil isn’t unique, the dizzying chase scenes do at least give us an adrenaline rush.  Screenwriters Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback did an impressive job of describing a visually stunning future world with elevators that change direction both vertically and horizontally, and elevated hover car highways.  In particular, the massive transport vessel they refer to as The Fall that makes daily cross-planetary trips between the UFB and The Colony is also the scene for the movie’s final showdown.

My complaints with this film are relatively minor.  Wiseman and company under-utilized the top talent they had with both Cranston and Nighy.  Cranston is a force and his character should have had more on-screen time, while Nighy's screentime is little more than a cameo. 

In this summer of IMAX and 3D, it was curious to learn that this film was shot straight up.  There were several sequences that seemed perfect for either process and if this doesn’t return a profit, I’m sure the producers will second guess themselves the rest of the summer.  On the plus side, once it becomes available on DVD, you won’t bemoan the fact that you don't have a super duper, fancy friggin television.

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