Film Review | Total Recall

Oh look! It’s another unnecessary remake!

Feel the love: Colin Farrell and KateBeckinsale get into a domestic squabble in this mind-bending sci-fi remake.
Feel the love: Colin Farrell and KateBeckinsale get into a domestic squabble in this mind-bending sci-fi remake.

If you ever needed proof that Hollywood's in crisis, you need to look no further than Len Wiseman's unimaginative, plodding and overlong remake of the 1990s Schwarzenegger sci-fi bonanza, Total Recall.

This cynical act of franchise recycling doesn't even bother to hide the fact that it's made exclusively as a product of fear - a fear of taking risks in an industry that has come under threat by the internet and an increasing number of far superior television dramas.

Which is funny, because the story's central concept - violently extracted and modified from the Philip K. Dick story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale - runs on a kind of fear that is ripe for heady artistic exploration: the chilling proposal that your own thoughts and memories are not to be trusted.

Where the original Paul Verhoven-directed film stuck to Dick's story insofar as it centred around social conflicts between Earth and Mars, Wiseman places the very ham-fisted social segregation angle here on earth... or at least, a dystopian variant of it, split between the haves (United Federation of Britain) and the have-nots (the Colony), with minimum wage labourers having to travel down 'the Fall' - a huge tunnel connected between the opposing continent - to face the daily grind.

Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is one of the system's many unfortunates. Despite a happy marriage to the beautiful Lori (Kate Beckinsale), he yearns for a more adventurous life away from his grotty one-bedroom apartment.

Hearing about Rekal - a company which specialises in implanting fake memories - Quaid decides to give their unique service a go, opting for a fantasy past which has him as a highly effective spy.

But his trip down (artificial) memory lane doesn't quite go as planned, and the ensuing chaos leads him to discover that his fantasy may be closer to reality than he had previously believed - and that even his 'wife' may be in on this strange conspiracy.

Against the backdrop of a rebellion which threatens to tear civilisation apart, Quaid teams up with Melina (Jessica Biel), who may or may not be his former partner - both personal and professional - from a former life.

On the run from authority for crimes Douglas isn't even sure he committed, the two fugitives soon incur the wrath of the region's dictator Chancellor Vilos Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston).

The Schwarzenegger original was silly, but it at least had an over-the-top joy about it. Wiseman's rehash is neither passionate nor inventive, and  if he doesn't seem to care about it, why should we? The overlong script is bloated with misjudged exposition, convoluted action scenes that are laughable as they are mundane, and cinematography that tries to copy that other, classic Philip K. Dick adaptation - Blade Runner - but just ends up creating a world that looks like a video game.

Really, though Farrell does a decent enough job of looking suitably paranoid (his fidgety ticks are present and fully accounted for), Beckinsale (Wiseman's wife, and  also the star of his Underworld franchise) is the only one who seems to be having any fun on set.

Mirroring Sharon Stone's turn in the original, Beckinsale plays the double-crossing agent as a kung-fu panto baddie to amusing effect.

It's a pity that the rest of the film lacks that same level of self-deprecating fun.

In a world of successful reboots - from Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy to the promising-looking The Bourne Legacy - Total Recall 2012 could serve as an object lesson in precisely how not to update an already flawed piece of cinematic hokum.