Total Recall (2012) Movie Review

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Colin Farrell in Total Recall (2012) Movie Image

Walking into Len Wiseman’s “Total Recall”, you can’t help but wonder if you’re going to get a kickass action extravaganza or another unnecessary remake. To be honest, you get both. Best known for his “Underworld” movies, Wiseman is definitely a style-over-substance kind of director. For all their faults, however, his movies are never boring, and “Total Recall” is a slick science fiction actioner. It isn’t especially noteworthy, but neither is it terrible. This isn’t a film you need to see more than once, and even though it is ultimately forgettable, it keeps you entertained.

“Total Recall” starts with an action scene, pauses for a moment to establish—establish in the loosest possible sense—the story and characters, and then the majority of the film is a dead sprint for the finish line. During the moments when the story slows down and attempts to be about anything, is where the movie flounders. There’s nothing mind blowing here, but along with the supped-up pace, the action is solid—including a badass hover car chase—and there are some quality fight scenes. Kate Beckinsale has done action before, but who knew she could get down and dirty and whoop the holy hell out of some folks?

Kate Beckinsale in Total Recall (2012) Movie Image

You’ve heard of a hard-R rating, and it helps to think of “Total Recall” as a hard-PG-13. Characters swear often, though there’s not a single F-bomb to be heard. Lots of people get shot, kicked, punched, stomped, and otherwise beaten, and while there’s not much blood, there’s more gooey red stuff than some PG-13 fare. There’s even—spoiler alert—exposed female nipples. Shocking, to be sure. Of course there could, and maybe should have been more of an edge, but overall the movie isn’t as watered down as many feared.

If you encountered any trailers or clips before hand, you likely suspected the plot for Wiseman’s “Total Recall” was going to be similar to Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 version, based on the Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale”. Those suspicions are well founded. There are minor differences between the two films, but minor is the key word. In a dystopian future Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) is a bored factory worker married to Lori (Kate Beckinsale), a woman light years out of his league. Frustrated, passed over for promotion, he goes to Rekall, a business that implants false memories into your brain. You can be a movie star, a sports hero, a sex god, or, in Doug’s case, a secret agent. When things go wrong at Rekall, he finds himself pursued by the authorities, which includes Lori sporting a new found British accent; involved with Melina (Jessica Biel), not a prostitute in this version; and embroiled in a sprawling underground revolution.

Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel in Total Recall (2012) Movie Image

While the stories are the same, the tone of the films is one drastic difference. Verhoeven’s film was wall-to-wall genre cheese, with America’s most famous governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, chewing on every scene. That element of schlocky fun is noticeably absent, as Wiseman’s film attempts a grittier approach.

Most of the plot is window dressing. Motivations, feelings, backgrounds, all of that only function to get “Total Recall” from action sequence to action sequence. The movie blends practical and digital effects together into a glossy exterior, but while the movie looks great, the design is familiar and derivative. Sci-fi fans will notice echoes from any number of other films. The drones of the “synthetic” police force are reminiscent of “I, Robot” and the Empire’s Storm Troopers; the hover car piece—and the cars themselves—comes straight out of “The Fifth Element”; and every scene that takes place in “The Colony” looks like it was filmed on the set of “Blade Runner”. Granted, point out a modern science fiction film not influenced by “Blade Runner”, but resemblances go beyond the point of homage or deference. Watching them side-by-side, you could make the argument that “Total Recall” and “Blade Runner” take place in the same universe.

Colin Farrell in Total Recall (2012) Movie Image

What “Total Recall 2012” is really missing is Paul Verhoeven’s wing nut sense of humor and wicked satire. There are nods to the earlier film, and vague indications of class strife, corruption, imperialism, and the usual dystopian elements—you know, all the things that make a story dystopian—but nothing is explored in any depth. Some oversimplified philosophical ramblings about the nature of the self and identity pay lip service to the source material, but all that remains is empty rhetoric.

At the end of the day “Total Recall” is exactly what you expect it to be—nothing more, nothing less. Neither great nor terrible, it is a serviceable, but forgettable foray into sci-fi action, and a vacant, though eye-catching stylistic exercise. Most of the flaws are forgivable if you allow yourself to be swept up and carried along by the pace. There is one glaring exception to this. “Total Recall” is an absolute, nearly criminal waste of Bryan Cranston. His Chancellor Cohaagen is a bland, toothless villain, so boring and disappointing because you know just how incredible Cranston can be.

Len Wiseman (director)/Kurt Wimmer (writer)/Mark Bomback (writer)
CAST: Colin Farrell…Douglas Quaid
Kate Beckinsale…Lori Quaid
Jessica Biel…Melina
Bryan Cranston…Chancellor Cohaagen


Buy Total Recall on DVD

Author: Brent McKnight

Brent McKnight lives in Seattle with his dogs. He likes beards, movies where things explode, and overcast skies. His three favorite movies are "Rubin and Ed", "A Bittersweet Life", and "Out for Justice". He wishes his knees didn't hurt. On Twitter @BrentMMcKnight
  • http://www.beyondhollywood.com/ Dedpool

    Well if it’s exactly what I’d expect then I’m good! I expected crazy action sci-fi fun, and that’s what it sounds like I’ll get. And after Blade Runner other films look to have influenced this as well like “Minority Report” (another P.K. Dick adaptation), “A.I.”, and even the original “Total Recall.” I can’t help but notice how much the slums of TR2012 look like the slums of mars.

  • http://www.beyondhollywood.com/ Nix

    I thought Cranston would chew a little bit more scenery, though, surprised he played it so straight…

    • http://www.beyondhollywood.com/ Dedpool

      My thoughts exactly! Almost a waste of the man. I watched the theatrical and will be watching the Extended Cut tonight. I liked the remake though. Not better than the original but still not a bad sci-fi action flick.

  • X_p

    how come shes not a prostitute anymore? wassup with that?

  • Jsl19

    just went and saw it… alittle different from the 1990 ver. but not bad.. exactly what i thought it would be.. i was entertained for the whole 2 hours… it didn’t blow me away..but i wasn’t disappointed either..

  • Darth Yoda

    Wait.. Why is there no mention of triple-tits, fetus-belly yoda, and gnarly red booger implants?

    I am so confused..

    • http://www.beyondhollywood.com/ Dedpool

      Triple-tits was mentioned when he said there’s nipples. The other stuff isn’t mentioned cause it doesn’t happen.

  • Debo4735

    First of all the Lori character should’ve had blond hair for nothing better than to seperate the characters of Lori and Melina. Also you gotta have Quato in the movie, and Brian Cranston should have played the part of the Richter the man who was hunting Quaid in the 1990 movie, and Lori’s true husband. That character was hardcore and a lot like Cranston’s character in Breaking Bad. Then ther’s no Bennie and his five kids to feed…what’s up wit dat!

    • http://twitter.com/BrentMMcKnight Brent McKnight

      Cranston could have been awesome as Richter. Would have been a way better use of him.

      • http://www.beyondhollywood.com/ Dedpool

        Meh, I woulda rather he just chewed up everything in sight as Coppenhaggen!

    • http://www.beyondhollywood.com/ Dedpool

      Okay so you wanted the original then?!? The reason for them not doing exactly what you’re asking for is because they wanted differences from the original. If every character from the 80′s version was in it, in the exact same role, look, or whatever it’d have been no point in remaking it. “Psycho” has pretty much showed us that a shot for shot remake isn’t a good thing. Take some chances, make some changes, add to the story (or at least try to) but don’t just remake the original. Where’s the fun in that? That all being said there are some great nods and homages to the original film.

  • Jaayhimself

    There was a single f-bomb dropped by Beckinsales character…

  • kraven

    style over substance with non-stop action. sounds like the perfect popcorn munching movie. I am in.

  • http://www.beyondhollywood.com/ Dedpool

    BECKINSALE IS BEAST IN THIS!!! I mean seriously, badass doesn’t even begin to desrcibe her!