Total Recall

Total Recall

2012, PG-13, 121 min. Directed by Len Wiseman. Starring Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Bokeem Woodbine, Bryan Cranston, Jessica Biel, Bill Nighy, John Cho.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 3, 2012

This second feature-length adaptation of Philip K. Dick's paranoiac sci-fi thriller may be more in tune with the grindingly bleak times we're currently living through, but it's also very much a product of director Len Wiseman – and all that that implies. Fans of Paul Verhoeven's 1990 original will immediately notice a few major changes: no Schwarzenegger, no Mars, no exploding heads, and, potentially the major deal-breaker – no sense of humor and precious little satire to speak of. Wiseman, who’s helmed the superior biters-vs.-furries franchise, Underworld, is a dab hand at taking the preposterous and making it seem utterly real. He's that rarest of Hollywood types, a director who invests himself fully, genre be damned. Dick, whose 1966 short story, "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale," was the inspiration for both cinematic adaptations, would probably have sided with Verhoeven's mordant take on the intersection of identity, consumerism, and "reality," but that's just a hunch on my part. Wiseman's film dispenses with the pop-culture-laden irony in favor of blazingly fast action and a disorienting editing style that – more often than not – makes your head spin.

And not necessarily in a good way, either. Farrell, bulked up as everyman Doug Quaid, is fine in his role as a man tormented by nightmares that may, in fact, be actual memories of a life he cannot recall. His wife, Lori (Underworld's hyper-athletic, fang babe), assures him it's all in his head and, of course, she's totally right, but not in the way Quaid hopes. Set in a dystopic 2084 that lifts an awful lot from Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and a pinch from The Fifth Element, Quaid's psychotropic journey from obliviousness to self-actualizing, anti-government insurgent feels right, but Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback's script rarely gives the viewer time to ponder this poor guy's exceedingly existential crisis. Total Recall kicks off at something approaching Mach 10 and never lets up for one moment. If Verhoeven's version is a woozy-cool head trip and a half, Wiseman's take on Dick is the cinematic equivalent of mainlining bad bathtub crank. It's fun while it lasts, but you'll be hard-pressed to remember (wholesale or otherwise) what the hell you just watched 24 hours later.

That said, Paul Cameron's cinematography, commingled with plenty of sweeping CGI images of a nasty-looking, semi-near future, is immersive in the extreme, and the film is the better for it. On the other hand, the great Bill Nighy (Shaun of the Dead) is completely wasted in a hopelessly underwritten role as rebel leader Matthias, and even Biel is short-changed as Quaid's other-life not-quite-wife. Audiences will almost surely divide equally along Verhoeven/Wiseman lines. This Total Recall is fast, furious, and frequently confusing fun, but to be completely honest, it lacks the snappy, weirdo vibe of its predecessor. If this is the future, I'd rather forget it.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Len Wiseman Films
Live Free or Die Hard
As John McClane, Bruce Willis once more brings the noise and blows the bejesus out of the bad guys.

Marc Savlov, June 29, 2007

Underworld: Evolution
This tale of the ongoing hostilities between vampires and werewolves is pockmarked by the discordant likes of Puscifer and Slipknot.

Marc Savlov, Jan. 27, 2006

More by Marc Savlov
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
The Prince is dead, long live the Prince

Aug. 7, 2022

Green Ghost and the Masters of the Stone
Texas-made luchadores-meets-wire fu playful adventure

April 29, 2022


Total Recall, Len Wiseman, Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Bokeem Woodbine, Bryan Cranston, Jessica Biel, Bill Nighy, John Cho

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle