I have total recall of the classic Arnold Schwarzenegger/Paul Verhoeven action movie Total Recall. It has stood the test of time, and to this day stands as a deliriously fun blockbuster extravaganza with intelligence and subtext supplementing its awesome ultra-violence. 2012’s Total Remake, on the other hand, is an unmitigated piece of shit; a generic big-budget actioner with confused plot motivations and little in the way of thrills or originality. Make no mistake: though it’s supposed to be a fresh adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, this Len Wiseman-directed picture is just a straight remake of the Arnie movie. Hence, Total Rehash is the most uncreative remake in years – and that’s saying something. There is not a single original thought or moment in this joyless two-hour catastrophe. Perhaps the most amusing thing about Totally Unnecessary is that it was produced by the company Original Film, the logo for which prominently appears at the picture’s beginning. Oh the irony.
In the 22nd Century, Earth has been devastated by chemical warfare, leaving only two inhabitable regions: Britain and Australia (known as “The Colony”), which are connected via a huge elevator that travels through the planet’s core. Blue-collar worker Douglas Quaid (Farrell) lives a dead-end existence, married to the beautiful Lori (Beckinsale) but plagued by dreams of a mystery woman who tries to save his life. Quaid’s curiosity is piqued by a company called Rekall that sells implanted memory vacations, and he pays them a visit hoping for some excitement in his life. As it turns out, though, Quaid has had memories implanted before, and his entire life is actually a lie. Learning that his wife is actually an enforcer working for shady leader Cohaagen (Cranston), Quaid goes on the run to evade capture. It isn’t long before Quaid meets Melina (Biel), a freedom fighter with ties to the enigmatic Matthias (Nighy) who wants to stop Cohaagen’s evil scheme.
Once Quaid goes on the run, Total Shit is solely concerned with flashy but numbingly repetitive action beats, and the specifics of the plot soon become hazy. Wiseman’s team were so intent on making cosmetic changes that the original premise no longer makes sense. See, Cohaagen sets up an elaborate plan involving Quaid to find Matthias, and suspects that Matthias may be hiding in the uninhabitable zones outside the city. But he has a limitless army of robotic soldiers to do his bidding and everyone knows what Matthias looks like, so why doesn’t Cohaagen send out a huge search party? In the original Total Recall, the equivalent of Matthias (the character Quato) was a huge question mark – nobody knew who or what he was, or what he looked like. As a result, Cohaagen needed Quaid to infiltrate the resistance.
For its first 30 minutes, Total Retard is literally a scene-for-scene remake of the original film – it’s the most flagrant rehashing since Gus Van Sant’s Psycho debacle. The remainder of the film is a rhythmic and spiritual remake of Verhoeven’s masterpiece, retaining the same beats but substituting different locations and switching a few things around. It’s the screenwriting equivalent of stealing a Wikipedia article for your homework before using a thesaurus and rearranging words to disguise the plagiarism (at one stage, instead of a bead of sweat conveying something important to Quaid, it’s a tear). Fucking hell, the plagiarism is so blatant that the screenwriters of 1990’s Total Recall are even credited in the end titles.
Even the production design is derivative – it looks like the filmmakers just reused sets from every sci-fi movie from the past few decades, like Blade Runner and Minority Report. Furthermore, scenes and set-pieces within Total Ripoff seem to have been lifted from other, better films: the hovercar chase mirrors The Fifth Element, and Quaid has a conversation with a recording of himself in a scene stolen directly from I, Robot. While Totally Awful carried a hefty budget and thus looks handsome, there is no personality or panache to Wiseman’s direction; it’s all very banal and pedestrian. The filmmaking is flashy but soulless, with Wiseman mistaking CGI overload for genuine excitement. It’s hard not to be impressed with the visuals, but you’ll be hard-pressed to get swept up in anything that happens.
It’s evident that a number of deviations from the Arnie movie were made to ensure that the content was PG-13-friendly. For instance, an early scene in the original Total Recall implies that Quaid and Lori have morning sex, but a similar scene in Total Failure ends with Lori being called into work before Quaid can get his rocks off. (Clearly, Wiseman was unwilling to let his ridiculously hot wife do much making out.) Additionally, soldiers are predominantly robotic, eliminating the need for blood. The script also minimises the brothel. In Verhoeven’s original film, the brothel was where freedom fighters congregated and made a living, and Melina was a prostitute. The brothel in Total Flop is seen for all of one minute, and it isn’t a station for freedom fighters. Instead, the freedom fighters resemble something from Half-Life 2 (they stole from video games as well?), and don’t seem to have much of a cover or contingency plan. Admittedly, the iconic three-boob chick is glimpsed here and it’s the best part of the film, but we saw the three-boob chick in the original film where she had more screen-time. This is the thing – even if you want to praise something about Total Reheat, you’d be better off praising the sources it stole from.
Worse, the script reduces a formerly colourful ensemble to a bunch of generic faces without much in the way of human emotion or feeling. Everyone carries their serious face here, and none of them seem to have even heard the word “humour” in their lives. Colin Farrell does what he can, but he’s not an action hero – the actor works best as a hammy supporting character (see Fright Night and In Bruges). Likewise, Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel are entirely unremarkable. The always-brilliant Bryan Cranston is also left to founder on-screen, while Bill Nighy’s role in the flick is over as soon as it begins. What a way to waste a bunch of talented thespians…
Fuck me, Total Retard is a rancid piece of a shit; a joyless, empty assembly-line motion picture without any cinematic personality. It’s the type of big-budget flick for which you sit there, numbed and bored, while shitloads of money is splashed on the screen, handled by a filmmaker who has no idea how to generate excitement or exhilaration. During the action scenes I kept departing my physical form, entering a state of limbo where I thought about places I’d rather be… And then I’d return to my body only to think “It’s still going?” A reimagining of Total Recall was completely unnecessary, and the fact that this remake offers nothing worthwhile leaves it without a compelling reason to exist. Fuck this movie!