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  • 12A
  • Action, Sci-Fi
  • 2012

Total Recall

Total Recall


Factory drone Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) hopes to offset his general ennui with a trip to Rekall, who promise a fantasy vacation conducted entirely in the mind. As it transpires, there's a conspiracy afoot.


You may recall director Len Wiseman from such films as Underworld, Underworld: Evolution and Die Hard 4.0 (or, if you prefer, Live Free Or Die Hard). In addition to producing Underworld: Evolution, he has also produced subsequent franchise entries Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans and Underworld: Awakening. He's what you might call a commercially-minded talent, both for his track record in producing/directing financially successful blockbusters, and because of his background in advertising: an early stint as an assistant on Roland Emmerich hits including Independence Day and Godzilla was followed by career-consolidating commercial commissions for clients like Playstation, Time Warner and Intel.

What that all means for Total Recall is that you're getting a slick, video-gamey, loud, often good-looking, rarely surprising, and just-about passable action thriller. What it's principally lacking compared to Paul Verhoeven's 1990 version of the same basic tale is individualistic mischief. If Verhoeven is limited edition latex, Wiseman is assembly-line brushed steel. And what Total Recall 2012 is lacking compared to the original 1966 Philip K Dick short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale is any sense of existential panic: captured and potentially about to have his identity erased, Quaid's ire here is less akin to that of a man whose understanding of his own consciousness is collapsing in on itself and rather closer to a belligerent regular being forcibly restrained at closing time.

None of which is to say that some audiences won't have a good time with this film. Although it hammers home its point with a sledgehammer, there's a lot here about the daily grind of commuting to a job you hate, to pay for an apartment that's too small, in which you lie next to a spouse with whom you don't really connect, dreaming of being somebody else, which might strike a chord. The vertiginous slipping of reality that Philip K Dick explored isn't here, but then it's easy to forget that the ending to Dick's original story would not in a million years have worked in any film, and isn't present at all in the 1990 version either. (Wiseman's version also keeps the Arnold Schwarzenegger-instituted change of our hero's name from Quail to Quaid, Quail having too wussy a ring to it for big Arnie.)

Ultimately Total Recall's biggest problem is not that it is a remake of a better film, but that it cribs from many other films, some far better, some worse, including the Matrix sequels, I, Robot, Serenity, Wiseman's own Underworld films, and even Blade Runner. A remake can't easily be original in its themes, but surely a distinctive aesthetic of its own is one area where an imaginative talent might choose to set their own stamp on things.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Colin Farrell
  • Director: Len Wiseman

In a nutshell

More or less serviceable action thriller with some nice ideas for visual set pieces, but did it really have to be as long as it is?

by Catherine Bray

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