Total Recall Review

by Stephen Bourne (iamstephenbourne AT gmail DOT com)
August 5th, 2012

Total Recall (2012)
USA, 118 minutes, Rated 14A (ON) 13+ (QC)
Reviewed 08/12, (c) Stephen Bourne

Haunted by violent dreams and disgruntled with his grey blue collar life, Tokonoma Corp robot assembly line worker Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) ignores all warnings against getting a Rekall chemical memory implant and ends up on the run, a lot, in Underworld (2003) and Live Free or Die Hard (2007) director Len Wiseman's visually stunning post-apocalyptic re-imagining of the Oscar-winning cult fave Total Recall (1990) - itself very loosely based on Chicago- born American novelist Philip K. Dick's (1928-1982) Nebula Award- winning short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale first published in the April 1966 edition of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

Yes, Oscar-winning. Dances with Wolves swept the Academy Awards that year, winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Score and Best Sound, but the original Total Recall starring Arnold Schwarzenegger won a Special Achievement Award Oscar for Best Visual Effects.

However, that was then. This is a new Total Recall. More sober. Grittier. Far less ham and cheese.

Top marks this time out definitely go to art director Patrick Banister and all those involved in creating such an amazing- looking futuristic world where chemical warfare has made Earth an uninhabitable "No Zone" except for the heavily over-populated and perpetually rainy Australia - renamed (yikes) The Colony - and equally cramped yet comparably shiny United Federation of Britain. Sure, deep shades of Blade Runner (1982) and Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002) are clearly visible throughout, but Banister's interpretation of Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback's screenplay is truly fresh and spectacular at times. You see a building-sized elevator linking one city to the other through the planet's core. Flying cars and multi-level city districts. Trigger-happy robocops. All exceptional eye candy for Sci-Fi fans. Even better is that principal shooting was at Pinewood Studios in Toronto, home to North America's largest soundstage.
Beyond the big screen, you'll find two fairly straightforward games called Elevator Escape, and Recall Rush Driving, on this movie's official website possibly worth your gameplay at There's also a fairly clever anti-Rekall webpage set up at as part of this flick's marketing campaign that I got a kick out of.

Back on the big screen, what moviegoers don't see here are compelling primary characters. I was actually looking forward to seeing what Farrell would do with his role in this physically demanding actioner, having witnessed his acting range and depth personified onscreen in a few of his previous pictures over the years. Yes, he's been hit-and-miss, but I was still hopeful. Here, his performance is hollow and robotic, frozen in a single facial expression resembling a constipated goldfish for the majority of this screening. Neither Kate Beckinsale nor Jessica Biel do better at bringing anything particularly human or worthwhile to their scenes, vaguely investing more than an eyebrow each in playing opposite Farrell as Lori Quaid and rebel lieutenant Melina respectively. It's really a shame, because you've seen notably better performances from all three actors working under other directors. Here, it's as though Wiseman opted to abandon helming this feature during shooting, taking a Hogtown vacation on the studio's dime instead.

What's even more disappointing is that Wimmer and Bomback's screenplay doesn't really bother to offer up a story that's worth the price of admission. Total Recall essentially follows a simple template from beginning to closing credits: You get approximately fourteen words of bland dialogue followed by about a dozen minutes of drawn out and often boring action focusing on Farrell running or fighting or running through this or that awesome CGI-enhanced Sci-Fi element that you've already seen in the trailer, then the cycle repeats. And then repeats. Then repeats. Repeats. Yawn. The only other highlight becomes deciding whether or not to start nitpicking at wildly flimsy plot details, or let the explosions and other pretty special effects wash over you, or to start imagining what this remake would've been like if hammy animatronics and cheesy one-liners were still in vogue.

Steer clear of this visually extraordinary yet empty snoozefest that'll likely have you wanting desperately to download and watch the far more entertaining Schwarzenegger version on your smart phone while this plays out, just to say you've had a great time seeing Total Recall at the movie theatre. Reviewed 08/12, (c) Stephen Bourne

Total Recall is rated 14A by the Ontario Film Review Board for scenes of occasional gory/grotesque images, excessive use of expletives, partial or full nudity in a brief sexual situation, and violent acts shown in clear, unequivocal and realistic detail with blood and tissue damage, and is rated 13+ by la Régie du Cinéma in Québec.

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