Natalie Stendall’s FIlm Review: Total Recall is an exciting concept but fails to showcase ideas

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Total Recall, a remake of the 1990 sci-fi action thriller starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone hits the big screen this week with new leads Colin Farrell and Kate Beckinsale.

The story is set against a futuristic landscape where just two land masses have survived the 21st century’s chemical warfare - The United Federation of Britain and The Colony (formerly Australia).

The only safe transportation between these two areas is The Fall - a lift that travels through the Earth’s core - seen as an object of oppression by those in the less affluent Colony.

Total Recall opens on a dream sequence overloaded with strobe lighting effects and rapid action that sets the tone for the whole movie.

Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) awakes to find his wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale) by his side but that evening decides to visit ReKall - an organisation that can implant any memories a person desires.

Here Doug finds that someone has already tampered with his mind and neither he, nor his wife, are who he believes them to be. What follows is a set of elaborately designed pursuits interspersed with hasty, dialogue loaded information supplying sequences.

There’s nothing essentially wrong with Total Recall’s story. The ideas and questions that are raised are interesting ones - if you had someone else’s memories would you be a different person? - the problem is that this version doesn’t explore these themes particularly well or with any real flair.

There’s a nice cameo from Bill Nighy as Matthias, who has a brief opportunity to philosophise - ‘the past is a construct of the mind’ he asserts - but this is once more cut short by another burst of relentless action.

That Doug learns he belongs to a group whose ideology repulses him is interesting and this angle has a lot of potential, but the relentless flow of the cat and mouse pursuits leave little time for any scrutiny of this. While Farrell’s performance is sound and more emotional than Schwarzenegger’s, it is not earth-shattering. Beckinsale also gives us an unflinchingly ruthless pursuer as Lori, but we are never allowed opportunity to get under her skin, nor are we offered any insight into her true motivations.

Add to this that the dialogue is full of cheesy lines you’ll love or hate - ‘you really know how to pick ‘em’ love interest Melina says to Doug after his wife nearly blows them to pieces - and what you’re left with is action for action’s sake.

Has 21st century technology improved the look of Total Recall? The backgrounds are Bladerunner-esque with dark, smoggy skies and Japanese influences but they are nowhere close to as mesmerising. In fact, the amount of detail when the camera pulls out to wide shots of the cityscape becomes straining on the eyes rather than spectacular. Piling on the detail serves to make Total Recall’s environment less realistic not more so. This said, there are some nice touches and Big Ben can be seen in the background reminding viewers that this is still Britain.

The amount of incessant gadgetry is equally distracting and when Doug’s magnetic vehicle falls from the sky to land on a road full of today’s retro inspired Fiat 500s, the futuristic illusion is truly shattered. Neither do many of the gadgets or environments make much sense - that a person’s memory bank can be reduced to a few simple touch screens seems ludicrous, lifts that travel horizontally as well as vertically within deep architectural voids are absurd, and a phone built into the human hand starts out looking cool but plummets into the ridiculous when actually seen in use.

Total Recall is grounded in an exciting concept but fails to showcase these ideas. Instead this version becomes a vehicle for relentless action sequences and elaborate visuals, neither of which deliver their full potential. Fans of Total Recall should see this version for Colin Farrell’s more emotional take on Doug.

Certificate: 12A

Running Time: 118 minutes

Verdict: ✭2 out of 5