The 2012 remake of Total Recall was one of our most hotly-anticipated films. Somehow we missed it in the theater, and our first efforts to catch it on video ought to have told us something (two broken Blu-Rays, an extra-long wait for a Netflix copy, and part of the audience dozing off during the initial screening). It all seemed so promising–proven material, a top-notch cast (Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, and Kate Beckinsale in her signature running-and-jumping role), and some pretty cool teasers at Comic-Con. What could go wrong?
Well, as it turns out, everything. Gloomy set design and glacial pacing dragged down the first act, and while the action sequences are acceptable genre fare, the movie just doesn’t have any zip to it. The actors seem bored with the material, and the story (which owes more to the Bourne franchise than to Philip K. Dick’s classic short piece “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale”) suffers from utterly uninteresting gimmicks and a preposterous premise. The villain has one of the least credible goals I can remember seeing in movie (kill everyone in Australia and replace them with robots, and I am not making that up). But most baffling of all is the filmmakers’ decision to abandon the Recall plot device almost from the get-go. There is none of the mind-bending “is it real, or is it Recall?” mystery played up so well in the 1990 version starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone, let alone Dick’s bizarre original story. Why call this film Total Recall at all? Because they couldn’t get the rights for The Bourne Future?
If you can get past the yawn-worthy pace, silly plot, and the phoned-in performances, there are a couple of cool visual devices. Keep your eye out for a laser-lasso gun, a flying-car chase, Farrell’s electronic mask (a welcome update to the Arnold original), and a neat zero-gravity shootout. Also mildly notable–or maybe just weird, in light of the rest of the film–are the “original” elements the filmmakers actually did consider essential to include in the remake (like the Quaids’ split-level apartment, or a certain mutant callgirl). But it is work to make it there. These certainly aren’t memories I’d pay good money for.