The original "Total Recall" is easily one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's best films, not to mention one of the better adaptations of a Phillip K. Dick short story. Although the 1990 film took some liberties with Dick's plot, it successfully mixed action and intrigue in a way that delighted audiences. More than two decades later, the story returns to the big screen with a new cast and an entirely new take on the action.
Given the way the new "Total Recall" has been advertised, it's no surprise many audience members were expecting the new film to be a straightforward remake of the Schwarzenegger vehicle. The trailers play up the similarities, highlighting scenes that pay homage to the original film, while ignoring aspects that make the new one stand alone. In hindsight, this was probably a major marketing mistake that shortchanges the new film.
Similarities between the two include major characters keeping the same names and a general espionage plot, but the devil is in the details, and it is here that the two differ quite a bit. Easily the biggest difference is that the 1990 film purposefully tried to leave the question of reality vague, whereas the new "Total Recall" makes it clear to the audience that everything you're seeing on-screen is real. This doesn't mean that Colin Farrell's version of Quaid immediately accepts everything he's shown, but it does allow the director to focus on the character's struggle in ferreting out the truth, rather than leaving that task to the audience.
Aside from one major scene in the movie, where Quaid's co-worker is attempting to convince him the whole thing is a dream, there are four noticeable homages to the 1990 film. These are the Rekall chair itself, a throwaway mention of someone who thought he was "king of Mars" after going to Rekall, the woman who is stopped at security and, of course, the triple-breasted prostitute. If you've seen the original, these are nice touches. If you've never seen the original, each bit simply blends in with the current story.
One important change in the new "Total Recall" is how vital the two leading ladies are to the resolution of the conflict. Unlike the original, there are no damsels in distress. Both Lori Quaid (Kate Beckinsale) and resistance member Melina (Jessica Biel) are strong, decisive woman, determined to see their respective causes succeed. It's clear from the outset that they are more than equals with Farrell's character. Beckinsale's Lori is arguably a better fighter than either Quaid or Melina.
Perhaps due to her experience in the "Underworld" films, Beckinsale brings an impressive physicality to the role of Lori. She may have a petite frame, but from the way she carries herself and the manner in which she barks orders at subordinates, it is clear that she should not be trifled with. The character is more than willing to take risks, yet she's always supremely confident in what she's doing. Beckinsale wears that determination on her face at all times, and you never doubt that this woman is willing to kill.
For his turn at Quaid, Farrell puts in an admirable performance as a man who has just had his world turned upside-down. Unsure of who to trust and what to believe, Farrell's Quaid acts on instinct while in the heat of battle. When the heat dies down, he's clearly torn. He starts the film as someone who wants to learn about where he's been. By the end of the film, his focus has changed to that of a man who has made a decision about where he wants to go. While Lori and Melina are fighting a war of patriotism, Quaid's battle is ultimately one of self-discovery.
Biel's Melina is a competent fighter who can hold her own. She clearly harbors a love for Quaid, though represses personal feelings in order to ensure the survival of the resistance. Going toe-to-toe with Beckinsale's Lori, Melina is a more visceral fighter. Whether it was a conscious choice by the director or merely a difference in ability between the two actresses, Biel's fighting appears less polished and more raw than Beckinsale's expertly choreographed moves.
Set design on "Total Recall" is visually striking, with futuristic environments that immediately bring to mind the world envisioned by Eidos Montreal in last year's Deus Ex: Human Revolution. As Lori pursues Quaid through the lower levels of the Colony's main city, it is difficult not to draw parallels to Human Revolution's Hengsha City. The future Great Britain could easily be a cleaner version of the game's futuristic Detroit.
Music is also reminiscent of Eidos' game, with audio cues that could have blended nicely. Being pragmatic, the similarities in style are most likely due to the cyberpunk influences from which both "Total Recall" and Human Revolution draw, but seeing the environments on the big screen is sure to please fans of the game. It's an uncanny similarity and one that sets the bar for the upcoming "Human Revolution" movie.
It would be a mistake to dismiss "Total Recall" as a simple rehash of an older film. Once you look past the surface similarities, the story and thematic presentation are noticeably different. It would have been nice if the film dug a little deeper into the question of, "What makes a man?" but this is a summer action flick, not a drama. Taken in that light, along with some solid characters and impressive visuals, "Total Recall" makes for a fine way to while away a summer afternoon.
"Total Recall" is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 58 minutes. It is showing in 2-D.
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