Stars: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine, Bill Nighy, John Cho and Will Yun Lee.
Writers: Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback.
Director: Len Wiseman.
The thing that is clearly missing most from Len Wiseman’s reworking of Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 ‘classic’ is an economy of storytelling. Reflect upon Arnie’s original as it teeters on the brink of 90’s kitsch with all the hipster-coolness you can muster, but fact is it told a fast, fun story with clarity and wit.
And before we go further, lets be clear on one thing. Total Recall 2012 does not exist because Columbia Pictures, the swarm of producers or the director wanted to “go back to the original novel”, as has been spruiked on the talk show circuit over the last few weeks. It exists because the brand vividly recalls a hit movie that offered an all-ages, male-centric summer-movie experience, i.e. enormous profit potential.
Next to Dennis Dugan, Len Wiseman is commercial cinema’s most horrible director. His hollow posing and over-stylised gimmickry will forever mire his works as ‘awesome’ in the eyes of most under 15 boys and ‘disposable’ in the eyes of everyone else. None exhibit the breadth of vision, sense of humour or sci-fi smarts that Dutch-man Verhoeven brought to his adaptation of Phillip K Dick’s novel, ‘We Can Remember It for You Wholesale’ (which gets an ‘Inspired by...’ credit, the film industry equivalent of a sideways glance).
Wiseman’s Underworld films and Die Hard 4 were chilly exercises in tech showiness with a soulless core. One is tempted to call them ‘Tin Man’ films, but that beloved figure knew the importance of a heart; I don’t think Wiseman does. Not that a film like Total Recall exists to warm our cockles. But audiences still need to be engaged to care how the action plays out. And its plot does pivot on emotional ties between three lead characters driven by both personal and political passions.
As Doug Quaid, the everyman hero who begins to remember a dangerous past life of super-agent intrigue, Colin Farrell is the archetypal Wiseman leading man; he acts as if he’s in peril, gasps with shock every time his body and mind instinctively surges with some learned battle skill (there’s more than a little Bourne-ism in Farrell’s playing of the part). Schwarzennegger came to the role late in his action-hero career; he was a big, lumbering 42 year-old when he shot the original and conveyed convincingly a man seriously at odds with his rediscovered responsibility. Farrell is cut like a gymnast and his hair is permanently gelled; no matter the imminent threat, he looks sensational and entirely in control.
Kate Beckinsale is Lori, the bad-wife role that Sharon Stone made her own. It has been expanded, as you’d expect when the wife of the director is cast, but more is less. Jessica Biel steps into Rachel Ticotin’s shoes as the rebel soldier Melina, and she brings some much needed warmth.
Wiseman’s greatest strength seems to be his knack for drawing top-tier work from his tech providers; the cityscapes of future-Earth look incredible, with more than a few recognisable influences from the likes of Blade Runner and Minority Report, and densely choreographed action scenes, such as an elevated highway chase and lift-well escape, are great . Fellow Aussie patrons may be a little riled at our homeland being referred as ‘The Colony’; here’s hoping republican blood will boil at the reference and the debate over monarchist rule is reignited.
There are a few nods to Verhoeven’s film (three-breasted hookers? Check; “Two weeks”? Check), but they are used for little more than feeble comic effect. That largely sums up Wiseman’s attitude to the original film (or, if you must, the source text). Had he recalled the past with greater respect rather than crassly exploiting it for meagre present gain, Wiseman may have made a better film.