Review: New ‘Total Recall’ Slick and Fun, but Lacks Arnold’s Charm

In the twenty two years since Arnold Schwartzenegger swaggered his way through Mars in 1990′s Total Recall, the world has caught up and, in some ways, surpassed the mind-blowing technology of the future in the film.

It’s time for a remake.

The new Total Recall keeps the structure of the old film while changing many elements. Instead of on Mars, the action is set on an Earth devastated by chemical warfare. The only places safe for human habitation are Great Britain and Australia, the two areas connected by a giant tunnel with a train that barrels through the core of the earth each day. “The Fall,” as the trip is known, provides the posh UK with menial laborers and places the rif-raf Australians back at home each evening.

With all the world’s population crowded into two islands, technology has found a way to build up, with towering tenements, multi-level magnetic freeways, and floating cloud cities. Australia is the Brooklyn of the world, if Brooklyn were set on water-filled canals instead of streets. The bars are grungy and vibrant, the population artsy and gritty, and the clothes decidedly hipster. The UK, on the other hand, holds the wealth and the power, which the citizens exercise by having a lot more square footage per person, carefully coiffed hair, and sleek marble lobbies in their buildings.

Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) lives with his police-woman wife (Kate Beckinsale) in a small apartment in Australia. Their love keeps them warm, although he longs for something more as he commutes through The Fall to a factory job in the UK. In a fit of dicontentment, Douglas visits a seedy business called Rekall, which implants happy memories in customers’ brains.

Before they can do the procedure, the police burst in, ruining the party.

It seems Douglas already had implanted memories, ones that explain his strange dreams and his desire to kill British soldiers. His task is to figure out what is real and what is not while eluding forces that seem bent on taking him out, including his much-loved wife.

Or is she?

The stakes are high, involving a plot to invade Australia and kill the population, if Douglas’s perception can be trusted. A comely resistance fighter (Jessica Beil) also comes into play, a girl who at least has the sense to put her hair in a ponytail when fighting for her life, unlike wifey-poo, who lets it blow free and get in her eyes.

All this happens against a cool, high-tech backdrop of magnetically levitating cars and surgically implanted phones, synthetic drone soldiers and genetically, um, enhanced women. Apparently, men still will wish they had three hands.

The result is a lot slicker and thrill-y-er than the campy original of 1990 starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The action sequences – and there are a lot of them – are worth the price of admission. Farrell, too, puts more depth into his character than Schwarzenegger, who – let’s face it – relied on one-liners and his big muscles.

The film is rated PG-13 for action violence, pervasive use of the s-word, light sexual content (in the supposedly happy marriage relationship at the beginning), and brief but significant nudity (in the form of that infamous triple-breasted hooker). It pushes the PG-13 a bit and parents should consider if these factors are deal-breakers for bringing preteen or teen children.

Those who remember and love the original film, a group that would include most critics, may be disappointed to find it doesn’t carry the campy charm of the 1990 movie. However, a new audience won’t be comparing it to the old version and should be satisfied.


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