Total Recall: All style, no stuff
By Gautaman Bhaskaran
Colin Farrell is no Arnold Schwarzenegger, and this is the greatest pitfall of Len Wiseman’s Total Recall, a remake of the 1990 film with the same title. Both movies were inspired by Philip K. Dick’s short story, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, with Wiseman’s work based on the screenplay penned by no less than five men. Who seem to have made a hash of the broth.
Much like Sean Connery who could never be beaten by any of the later actors playing James Bond, Schwarzenegger is just cut out for some characters, one of them being Douglas Quaid in the earlier version of Total Recall, where he infuses a kind of vigour and vitality that Farrell finds hard to do in Wiseman’s creation. Admittedly, Farrell is a better actor, more emotional and emotive, and he sparkles in scenes where these are called to play. But Total Recall, much as Wiseman would have wished, has little to do with these finer human traits than with one to survive through means that are ruthlessly bloody and downright evil.
The plot is one long chase with twists and turns that are utterly unbelievable, a chase that never seems to end, that never lets you catch your breath. But then one could always argue out of this by saying that this is a kind of futuristic, kind of science-fiction stuff that has the right to take a viewer through the bizarre. So what if it is all speed and no soul.
Right in the beginning of the film, we are told to our horror that this is the end of the 21st century when a chemical war has left just two regions of the earth liveable. One of them is called the United Federation of Britain and the other, Colony (do we see a political longing in this?). While the UFB looks swanky with all the trappings of modernism, the Colony appears like a poor Asian slum, overcrowded, dimly lit and dingy to the core. The Colony, which is connected to the UFB through a tunnel, is the source of cheap labour, and workers are transported by what looks like a space shuttle which travels through the earth.
Quaid (Farrell) is a poor worker married though to sophisticated and pretty Lori (Kate Beckinsale). Overworked grumpy, and naturally allied with the chief of a workers’ resistance movement, Matthias (Bill Nighy), Quaid has a dream though. To be a secret agent (must have grown up on 007),and when he finds Rekall, a company, which implants realistic memories into customers letting them be whatever they wish to be, he offers himself for the procedure. But before he can become a spy, he is caught by the police, who suspect him to be a terrorist. But is he one, and nobody except two attractive women – Lori and Melina (Jessica Biel) – seem to know.
To find out how, we have to gallop with Wiseman, through gun fights, flying bullets that invariably miss our hero (a la Bollywood) and chases through tunnels, doors and in strange flying objects. There is too much of these, and a time comes when we begin to tire. All the excitement, all the rush of blood leaves one feeling a bit cheated at having to sit through a mindless journey.
Wiseman, who is known for his Underworld vampire-werewolf movies, has invested a good chunk of his work’s $125-million budget to create trendy visuals. The atmosphere looks catchy, but it is all style over substance. This works only to a point, and if there is at all anything elevating, it is Beckinsale’s performance. At one moment, she is Quaid’s wife, oozing love and sex, and in the next frame, she is a vicious assassin, gunning down anybody daring to block her way. When she has no gun, she uses her feet and fists to nail down her enemies, and this includes Quaid. Bryan Cranston’s villain and Jessica Biel’s tough resistance fighter are no match for Beckinsale. The two often seem so wooden in a film that fails to make the grade.