Recovering Memory, One Fight at a Time
With a film like Total Recall, a reboot of the 1990 version starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, there is so much to conquer and explore. It’s a film that takes place in the future, has socio-political intrigue, and deals with the loss of self-identity and skewed perceptions of reality. Unfortunately, these themes take a back seat in director Len Wiseman’s adaptation to make way for explosive chase sequences and some messy global destruction.
This futuristic world contains only two hospitable pieces of land, the United Federation of Britain and current day Australia, known as “The Colony.” Connecting them is an industrial, inner-earth shuttle called “The Fall”, helping people commute between two dichotomized worlds. UFB is a totalitarian regime, boasting London’s present infrastructure, which is layered with levels of modernized, floating buildings and highways. “The Colony” in turn is an impoverished overpopulated nation, given an aesthetic vision of a dark, crowded and constantly rainy Asian metropolis. It is led by a group of insurgents, impassioned with seceding from their tyrannical transport neighbors.
One of the many commuters to UFB is Douglas Quaid (Collin Farrell) who works as a technician on the government’s synthetic robot law enforcement, who share a similar traits to Storm Troopers except curiously less adept. He is married to Kate Beckinsale who in reality is married to Wiseman, which may account for some of her monotonous, extenuated scenes only a husband could make possible. There is a lot of running, chasing, and fighting, and while this is not frustrating to watch, it serves no purpose, extended sequences that seem frozen, apart from real time.
This appears to be Wiseman’s most bankable skill and the creative choreography of shots involving Farrell and Beckinsale adds punch to an unmemorable film. In the midst of heavy conflict between UFB Chancellor (Bryan Cranston in yet another unusual role) and the Colony leader (Bill Nighy), things grow eerie for Douglas, who after visiting a memory implant service, finds his past may not really be what it seems, that Beckinsale just might not be his wife, and that enhanced combat skills have been subconsciously lingering.
Immediately scenes from the Bourne series come to mind, as do Inception, Shutter Island, Unknown, and visually iRobot. Yet all of those films delved deeper into the personal struggle of a man trying to decipher his reality from, in this case, an implanted memory of it. This was done effectively maybe once in the film, where Douglas is faced with a choice to shoot his former girlfriend (Jessica Biel) turned partner in crime/ memory rehabilitator or kill his best friend. Only then do we see a real personal dilemma, a situation where an unknown past could potentially haunt his next decision.
Another underdeveloped area comes from the could-be social commentary on the revolutionary colony fighting for its independence. What is Douglas really fighting for? In his past life he was a skilled agent that experienced a change of heart, an ideological awakening. His ambitions, like the grassroots movement to tear “The Fall” down, are as muddled as Douglas’s memories.
The film is based off a Phillip K. Dick story, whose previous film manifestations have come to life in The Adjustment Bureau and Minority Report. It’s safe to say Wiseman takes his liberties with the source material, who directs a bland script from Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback. I would have liked to see Farrell put his acting skills to better use, recite sharper dialogue, and demonstrate a little more uncertainty in the twist his life suddenly takes. Anchored with a strong ensemble cast like this, nothing powerful seems to break through.
The power instead is saved in the punches, the artillery, and in the heavy breathing. That’s fine for a movie like Total Recall, but it doesn’t have to be.