Review: Total Recall – Don’t forget to breathe

Total RecallThe new remake of Total Recall is nearly a full two-hour action sequence with hardly enough time to catch your breath.  The characters are constantly in a shoot-out, or jumping to or from something while in between explosions and being chased by police, government agents and robots – all against a very cool and futuristic sci-fi backdrop. And while all the action is great, the makers of this movie forgot to sprinkle in a little bit of humor and humanity.

The only brief comedic relief in this film comes from a handful of gags that pay homage to the 1990 Total Recall film that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone.  Both movies are based on the Philip K. Dick short story, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, but there are some big differences between the Paul Verhoeven classic and this new version that is directed by Len Wiseman (Underworld).

In the new film the base story stays the same, in that average-Joe worker Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is having recurring nightmares in which he feels he is meant for something bigger than his menial job (in this case he is a factory worker building robots.)  His dreams and his dissatisfaction with his life lead him to Rekall, a clinic that will insert elaborate memories into your brain, and Douglas wants to experience the memories of a “secret agent.”

Before the procedure can take place, police raid the Rekall clinic and Quaid takes out 20 cops without breaking a sweat. He rushes home in a panic to tell his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) what has happened, but it turns out she was in on a cover-up to prevent the man from finding out who he really is, a real-life secret agent; and once the jig is up, she sets her mind on killing him.

Total RecallThe rest of the movie revolves around Quaid (AKA Hauser) trying to figure what the hell is going on while dodging bullets (turns out that in the future, bad guys are still terrible shots)  and trying to assist a rebellion in taking down the most powerful entity in this future world, a man called Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston).

The 1990 Total Recall involved a trip to Mars and saving a band of rebel mutants, but in the new film Mars is only mentioned once in an off-handed remark and mutants are never mentioned at all. This movie takes place entirely on Earth, but with some pretty inventive science-fiction trappings.

In 2084, the Earth has been devastated and is uninhabitable except for Britain, now called the United Federation of Britain, and Australia, known in this future world as the Colony. There is a tunnel, called the Fall, that runs through the Earth itself and connects the two outposts of civilization. Poor workers from the Colony commute through the Fall to Brittan, where they work as second-class citizens.

The United Federation of Britain looks like a future city borrowed from Star Wars and the Colony looks to be straight out of Blade Runner (another of Philip K. Dick’s stories, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) But that’s not to say these aren’t incredible backdrops for the ultra-long action scenes in this movie.

Total RecallIn addition to the Fall, this future society has other fun technology like an electronic bola, storm trooper style robots, hovercraft cars and cell phone hand implants with video.  Let’s just say that this newly envisioned future has much better toys that 1990’s square cars and robotic Johnny Cabs.

All the sci-fi and future society fun in this film is overshadowed by all of the action – and there is a ton of it. Beckinsale, Farrell and Jessica Biel (rebel leader & Hauser’s real love interest) throw more punches, fire more bullets and escape more explosions than a dozen modern video games – and a lot of the action sequences look like they could have been lifted from a modern shooter or sci-fi puzzle game.

The new Total Recall has some great special effects and stunt work and what the movie might be missing on the dramatic or comedic side, it more than makes up for in unbridled energy and fun. It is one of the most intense and entertaining action flicks of the summer.  Grade: 8/10

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.