Both films are inspired by Philip K. Dick’s short story, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” but while Verhoeven transformed the story into a contemplative and unique cinematic feast, Wiseman basically copies off Verhoeven’s test paper and sprinkles it with some of his own touches so the teacher won’t realize that he cheated. There should be some credit given to Wiseman, for his set pieces and understanding of futuristic production design are masterful and they deliver for sure, but he cannot exactly give off that je ne sais quoi apocalyptic atmospheric touch seen in such films like “Children of Men.”
It is the distant future and of course the world is in shambles (have we ever seen a sci-fi film that shows the world as a better place?). Humanity has almost wiped out all of its resources and 90 percent of the world is uninhabitable. There are only two nations left -- the United Federation of Britain (UFB), the neo-capitalistic center of the world, and The Colony, namely Australia, where the rest of the poor blue-collar souls live. While the UFB looks like a version of a sanitized New York, The Colony looks like a mesh of Far Eastern cities, especially a seedy neighborhood of Bangkok. Everyday, inhabitants of The Colony commute to the UFB via a 17-minute underground shuttle ride traveling through the core of the earth to go to their factory jobs. This shuttle is the most interesting invention of the film, for it will also be the location in which countless action scenes will take place.
Douglas Quaid (Collin Farrell) is a menial factory worker who takes the shuttle every day. He’s married to the beautiful Lori (Kate Beckinsale, who is also Wiseman’s wife in real life) and they seem to have a small but merry life in their cramped apartment. Until one day when Quaid cannot escape the notion that there is something utterly wrong with his routine and he also seems to be having recurring dreams about another woman. Quaid decides to visit “Rekall,” an establishment where people can implant new memories into their brains so they can deal with their current boring lives. Quaid decides to take on the memories of a secret agent, but guess what? The machine goes into “error” mode because it turns out that Quaid is in fact a secret agent whose real memories were erased. And then comes the big revelation: Lori is not his real wife; she’s just a UFB agent monitoring Quaid because he was apparently the second-in-command of a resistance movement, a guerilla army that wants to cut The Colony’s tether of slavery from the UFB.
Quaid tries to discover who he really is while Lori and her henchmen chase him initially through the narrow streets of The Colony and then through the high-tech terrains of UFB. Quaid finally stumbles upon the woman who he’s been seeing in his dreams, Melina (Jessica Biel), who will help him discover who he really was. Will Quaid actually regain all his lost memories? How important are memories anyway? Will the resistance movement win the fight against capitalism? And what about all those humanoid robots that are manufactured in the factories, do they also have memories? These questions will be answered only simplistically, in the way that simplified action films dare only to address with minimum effort, so don’t go searching for some existential insights.
“Total Recall” possesses some astounding fight choreography and chase scenes supported with an adrenaline-fueled soundtrack that will give the audience a short-term high that will eventually evaporate from one’s memories. The use of CGI is rocketed up to maximum capacity; in some scenes it is craftily implemented and in others it looks a tad too superficial. Nevertheless the production design is the film’s strongest asset. The script raises a lot of interesting questions about identity and memory, but prefers to divert its focus on pleasing adolescent audiences and their lust for violence and action scenes. Farrell gives out a passable performance, it is obvious that he is trying to deliver a subtle performance of a deeply confused human being, but his attempts are washed out by the film’s uncontrollable tempo and impatience with any moment that might provide a breathing point. There is little substance amidst the 120 minutes.
The problem with “Total Recall” is that it is too ambitious, self-confident and shallow in its execution. Like all intelligent students who are lazy, the film can’t be bothered with studying and contemplation and thus wastes its potential. This film is great fun, but don’t expect another sci-fi classic.
Directed by: Len Wiseman
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, Ethan Hawke, Bill Nighy, Bryan Cranston, John Cho, Kaitlyn Wong, Steve Byers, Currie Graham, Bokeem Woodbine, Morgane Slemp, Phi Huynh, Gregoire Akcelrod