Not many film reviews can credibly begin with words like “Vin Diesel should have been cast instead of” or even “Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance was vastly superior than” but take a bow, Colin Farrell and the Total Recall reboot team, for encouraging the commentariat to pen a weird new chapter of critical analysis, in which lines like “get your ass to Mars” are held up as relics from a better, brighter, smarter time.

Pockmarked by a smattering of head-scratching decisions that suck the fun out of director Paul Verhoeven’s smart and madly entertaining 1990 hit, the new, dreary, painfully repetitive Total Recall sees Underworld (2003) director Len Wiseman calling the shots, exchanging the original’s colourfully clashing look for a steel plate of washed-out blues and grays.

In a dystopian futuristic world where two areas exist — the British empire and ‘The Colony’ — bored factory worker Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell, trying on Schwarzenegger’s very large shoes) decides to supplement his dull existence by partaking in the services of a company, Rekall, that implants fake memories into people’s minds.

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In Wiseman’s version, Rekall HQ is a dimly lit environment with beaded curtains and tattooed staff. It looks like the kind of place punters enter surreptitiously, avoid eye contact and expect massages to come with happy endings. Verhoeven’s rendering of Rekall was — rightly so — a cold, sterile, futuristic, laboratory-esque enterprise; a place that looks, you know, like it had some vaguely scientific air about it.

Douglas’s memory insertion goes awry and the rest of the movie unfolds like a bad trip, albeit one that’s more staring-at-your-carpet then, say, going on safari.

The fuzz swoop into Rekall guns-a-blazin’, setting off a chain of events — actually just one or two, repeated ad neusum — involving Douglas hiding and running and hiding and running, then doing some hiding, and then some running, and then a wee spot of hiding. He questions who he really is — the screenplay admirably resisting the temptation to have him look to the cloudy metallic heavens and cry out “WHO AM I?” —  and whether what he’s experiencing is real or not, a yada yada.

Colin Farrell feeds the movie a poster boy cosmopolitan vibe and the supporting cast — including a wasted Bryan Cranston and an even more wasted Bill Nighy — don’t fare much better. Wiseman, presumably because he thought it looked cool, decided to dip the surface of Total Recall in the headlights of a futuristic automobile, or so one assumes this is how his “vision” might be articulated, in turn creating quite possibly the most annoying use of lens flare in cinema history.

Fans of the original flick (both are based on Philip K Dick’s short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale) will notice that Wiseman has the, er, good sense to keep a woman with three breasts in his version; she flashes Douglas just before he enters the Rekall office.

The crucial difference is that Wiseman completely ditches the plotline that, in Verhoeven’s movie, legitamised her presence, made a mutant triple-titted prostitute relevant in the context of the story (and yes, that’s an achievement in itself). The fact that Wiseman couldn’t be bothered with the set-up but cashed in — however momentarily — on the pay-off speaks volumes about his laziness as a filmmaker.

Total Recall’s Australian theatrical release date: August 23, 2012. 

 

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