In the absence of originality and risk, remakes and reboots are quickly becoming the bread and butter of the Hollywood machine. It would seem that the question of whether a studio should dare remake a classic stopped being asked by executives long ago; now, it’s simply a question of whether or not they should remake it in 3D. I’m convinced that within my lifetime we will see a remake of Schindler’s List.
Still, the notion that a subpar remake will somehow spoil the original has always been lost on me; if you truly love the original, it will always be there for you, regardless of how inferior the remake might be. That’s certainly true of Paul Verhoeven’s celebrated 1990 sci-fi/thriller Total Recall, a film that is neither butchered nor bested by Live Free or Die Hard director Len Wiseman’s modernisation (which, surprisingly enough, is not in 3D).
Set in the year 2084, Colin Farrell (Fright Night) takes over from Arnold Schwarzenegger to play Douglas Quaid, a colonial factory worker bored with his life, despite going home to a barely-dressed Kate Beckinsale each night. Hoping to break the monotony, Douglas signs the dotted line at Rekall, a clinic that implants artificial memories into the brains of its clients. The process begins with a test to ensure compatibility, but it’s cut short when Douglas is suddenly accused of being an undercover spy, causing everyone from the government to his supposed wife to want him eliminated – but is it real, or merely a part of the Rekall experience?
Futuristic science fiction has always been close to my heart, films such as Spielberg’s Minority Report (also based on a Philip K. Dick story), Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell and the original Total Recall, which trumps this version in almost every way, particularly on the page. In Wiseman’s remake, character motivations are thinly drawn by clumsy dialogue, while the story seems only to exist to branch us over to the next chase. None if this is very surprising giving the co-writing credits of Kurt Wimmer (Salt, Ultraviolet), who seems to be Hollywood’s go to writer for action-oriented scripts with the bare-minimum of plot and character needed to propel the film forward.
That being said, viewed simply as a breathless action film, Wiseman’s remake does have value. Aided by excellent visual effects, the near-ceaseless action set pieces are slick and spectacular, although notably less gruesome than Verhoeven’s R-rated original. Despite the heavy use of CGI, it’s refreshing to see in-camera stunts being performed in favour of entirely digital ones, which goes a long way to add to the adrenalin this film exudes.
It also helps that Farrell, having bulked up considerably, convinces both physically and emotionally as Douglas, maintaining a credible state of bewilderment from beginning to end. Farrell is much more the earnest everyman compared to Schwarzenegger’s darkly comical take on the role, which is neither for better nor worse; just different. As Douglas’s wife, I daresay Beckinsale (Underworld: Awakening) is in improvement over Sharon Stone in the original, who seemed more concerned with proving she could star in her own aerobics tape than convincing as Douglas’s pseudo-wife. Last of the primary cast, Jessica Biel ( The A-Team) shows up as a past fling that Farrell can’t quite remember (how could you forget?), adding some needed depth to his character as we try to pick up the pieces before the chase resumes yet again.
Ultimately, if Verhoeven’s Total Recall was a juicy steak, Wiseman’s remake is a microwave dinner; the taste isn’t exquisite, but it sure goes down easy.