As utterly pointless as the idea of a remake of Paul Verhoeven's 1990 campy classic may be, Len Wiseman's take on the sci-fi spy thriller inspired by Philip K. Dick's short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale is as much of a thrill ride as the original, only a lot more cohesive and structured in a knowingly disposable B-movie sort of the way.

     As scripted by genre veteran Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback, this "re-imagining" places the action squarely on Earth, moving it to a post-apocalyptic 22nd century after the planet was devastated by chemical warfare and only two states remain: the ruling United Federation of Britain and the Colony in old Australia, connected through a transport chute through the core of the Earth known as The Fall. The Fall is the key conceit of the film and the one that renders its mutinous cross-and-double-cross valid for the Occupy Wall Street generation: the Colony and the Federation stand for the 99% and the 1%, respectively, and it's against a backdrop of social protests and governmental repression that unfolds the tale of Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell), a factory worker who finds he is not who he thinks he is but really a brainwashed double agent.

     Other than the change of background, the plot is reasonably faithful to Mr. Verhoeven's film, even down to its signs of the times: where the 1990 Total Recall was 1980/1990 trashy, excessive, muscular filmmaking embodied, Mr. Wiseman's update is all sleek, derivative, workmanlike efficiency, heightened by the canny choice of Mr. Farrell in the lead. His Quaid is a more innately decent, human character in a way that Arnold Schwarzenegger's self-deprecating, winking performance never could achieve. Mr. Wiseman is fully aware of Total Recall's essential inbuilt obsolescence, to the point of building a wholly believable future world out of salvaged bits and pieces from earlier films - Blade Runner's rain-soaked derelict metropolis, Minority Report's tony futuristic technologies. It's an entirely believable background for a highly effective slam-bang actioner that fulfills its obligations without ever surrendering to crassness or rote by-the-numbers filmmaking: for a tale about someone whose memory is a jumble, the fact that Total Recall is an open remake with so many derivative concepts at work makes it intriguingly self-aware.

Cast: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine, John Cho, Bill Nighy

Director: Len Wiseman
Screenplay: Kurt Wimmer, Mark Bomback, from a story by Mr. Wimmer, the screenplay by Ronald Shusett, Dan O'Bannon and Gary Goldman for Paul Verhoeven's film Total Recall based on a story by Mr. Shusett, Mr. O'Bannon and Jon Povill, and the short story by Philip K. Dick We Can Remember It for You Wholesale
Cinematography: Paul Cameron  (colour, widescreen)
Music: Harry Gregson-Williams
Designer: Patrick Tatopoulos
Costumes: Sanja Milkovic Hays
Editor: Christian Wagner
Visual effects: Peter Chiang
Producers: Neal H. Moritz, Toby Jaffe (Columbia Pictures, Original Film)
USA, 2012, 118 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Columbia Tristar Warner screening room, Lisbon, August 23rd 2012


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