By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bokeem Woodbine, Bryan Cranston and John Cho
A lot of people don’t realize that before Total Recall was turned into a violent Arnold Schwarzenegger action-fest, 1990’s adaptation of the Philip K Dick story of the same name was going to be much different. David Cronenberg (The Fly), of all people, was trying to develop it as a techno thriller with a little bit of action and Patrick Swayze in the lead role. Of course, history shows that once Cronenberg walked away from the project, Paul Verhoeven, he of the future ‘classic’ Showgirls, took the directing reigns and turned the book into an admittedly enjoyable, but far from faithful rendition of the original story. Here, in 2012, Len Wiseman (Underworld) steps into the director’s chair and, much like many aspects of this updated version of the story, melds the two directing styles into one. It was a direction that I was not sure he would be able to pull off, as Wiseman is obviously trying to work extra hard to show that his movie is much different, yet try to give winks and nods to those people who loved Verhoeven’s film. Quite honestly, this melding of minds is more offbeat than any film I have seen this summer. But, I also have to say that I had a much better time with it than expected.
What makes Total Recall so unusual is that it seems Wiseman has taken on the task of not just remaking one, but two Dick stories. There is the obvious 1990 film of the same name. But, with all the rainy streets, clear umbrellas, and faux advertisements, he is obviously trying to do a modern version of Blade Runner as well. And, as a major fan of both the films and the stories they were based on, I must say that I respected this monumental task. I liked the usual somber mood and darkly ominous music that surrounds most Philip Dick adaptations. However, in recreating this mood, Mr. Wiseman made one mistake: he tried to out lens flare J.J. Abrams. In fact, there were so many lens flares in this film that I was wondering if Wiseman had legally added an S to his first name. A few here and there can be great. But, with so many showing up at every single instance, it came off as trying too hard.
And, truth be told, I think that last sentence can be a great review of this film as a whole. Sure, the glow in the dark tattoos, the GPS type device located in the hand, and well designed guns were great fun. But, they all came across as Wiseman telling the audience with an invisible sandwich board that he was different. However, that is not to say I did not have some surprising amounts of fun with this movie as well. Farrell is one of those guys who can play the straight businessman as well as he plays the every man (coincidently, he has played both in two movies based on Phillip K. Dick novels. The former in 2002’s Minority Report and the latter in this). It was fun seeing Farrell as an action star, and it actually made me wish he would do more. Cranston & Nighy are also good in their roles. But, the real fun was had by the two lead women.
Now, I will be the first to say that when I first heard of their casting, I was extremely apprehensive about both Beckinsale and Biel. This marked the first time Beckinsale has worked with her real life husband Wiseman on a film not called Underworld, and being given the role of a villainess seemed like a ‘sorry I forgot about our anniversary’ gift from Wiseman. And Biel, whom I have never been a fan of, has been cast in the softly dangerous role of Melina. I must say, that I had an all out ball watching Beckinsale’s eyes turn evil and hear her order troops around once it is revealed that she isn’t really Quaid’s wife. And, as fun as I was having, I am sure that Beckinsale herself was relishing in the role as well. However, while she had the more fun role of the two, Biel had a much harder task. She had to play a role in which we are not really sure what her motives are, but still be a strong heroine as well. On top of all of this, she is the one given in charge of most the film’s exposition, telling both Farrell and us the audience what exactly is going on. And, while I fizzled on her at first, I warmed up to Biel’s character & charisma quite quickly. She has definitely become a more mature actress since she took on the role of Whistler’s daughter in 2004’s Blade: Trinity. The specific scene she sold me was when she gets in a sort of stand off between herself, Quaid, and Woodbine’s character of Quaid’s co-worker named Harry. An impeccable and surprising display of acting by not just her, but all of them in this scene that takes place right in the heart of an action film.
This version of Total Recall has outlined its plot a bit better than the last one, and it was actually great fun spotting all the nods to the original film (sorry, no clues here). The film definitely had its problems. Not the least of which was Wiseman just getting too cute for his own good. His constant use of the rotating 360 degree camera angles weighed on the nerves at times. And, did I mention the lens flares? I also have no idea what Wiseman was thinking approving those designs for the troops in this film as well. They were melds of a Star Wars Clone Trooper and Tron players which just come off as silly. However, Wiseman more than makes up for it in scenes such as a far away shot of Lori (Beckinsale) chasing Quaid through the city. He also stages some pretty mind-blowing action scenes against some nifty backdrops.
Overall, I would say that Total Recall is not necessarily a rollicking good time. But, it is a good time nonetheless, and much better than it had any right to be. Sure, some of the plot didn’t ring true all the time (what exactly was the Resistance after?) and Wiseman doesn’t always know when to hold back, making him far from Cronenberg material. But, at least the film doesn’t take itself too seriously and, for my money, you can’t get much better than seeing Beckinsale play an evil character. Unless, of course, Wiseman had her play the three-breasted woman instead. Oh, and did I mention the lens flares?
3.5 out of 5