Tuesday, 4 September 2012



Let's not mess about here: Total Recall is great. By "great" I mean a copper-bottomed, full-tilt, balls-to-the-wall all-time classic, and by Total Recall I mean Paul Verhoven's 1990 SF/action thriller that is still one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's best films (even if he is miscast as an ordinary bloke). Full of fantastic effects, a clever plot, Jerry Goldsmith conducting the National Philharmonic into a frenzy on the soundtrack, marvellous villainy from the mighty Michael Ironside, sex interest from Rachel Ticotin and Sharon Stone, and stupendous levels of violence, Total Recall is great. What I don't mean by "great" or "Total Recall", however, is Len Wiseman's shiny new remake that tones down the violence to the 12A category and cranks up the CGI to absurd levels, but does very little that's new or interesting.

Yet this shiny new Total Recall is not without its merits and is perfectly decent, if silly, studio multiplex fodder for the blockbuster season. At the end of the 21st century, chemical warfare has ravaged almost the entire world apart from the UK and Australia and the two nations - residential and manufacturing respectively - are linked by a giant lift shaft drilled right through the planet. Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is an ordinary bloke working on the production line making "synths" - android police officers - who decides to have exciting memories uploaded into his brain to give his mundane life a boost. But then the police break in mid-procedure: every gets killed, Quaid finds out he isn't Quaid, and goes on the run from his top cop wife (Kate Beckinsale) who isn't really his wife after all; he meets Melina (Jessica Biel) who knows who he really is (and who he's been dreaming about)....

It hits many of the same beats as the original movie (I've never read the Philip K Dick story from which both films are derived), which means you can pretty much fill in the next ten minutes of the movie as it plays. This is actually an advantage as it means you can immerse yourself in the wonderfully designed futurescapes of the UK and Australia: vast multi-layered cities (with a touch of Escher about them) full of flying cars that remind you of The Fifth Element, although the film seems to want to be Blade Runner with its perpetual rain, cramped living space, thronging streets, and the towering mix of new and ancient architecture (and there's even a brief scene in which Quaid tries to work out who he is while playing a piano).

Perversely, even though Verhoeven's film has Arnie disguising himself as an old woman and travelling to Mars (and transforming the atmosphere with a millennia-old alien terraforming machine which he's found by mind-melding with a mutant's Siamese twin), it's the new version that seems the more implausible. If the UK and Australia are the only two countries left operational after a huge chemical war, that presumably means we're not world players any more and the new global superpowers will include the likes of Tanzania and Uruguay (why would their whole continents have been destroyed otherwise?). A socking great lift shaft right through the Earth (on a slight curve to miss the actual core itself) - whose bright idea was that and how the hell does it defy a massively increased gravitational pull by burrowing up the other side? How the hell did they even install it? Not to mention the plot point that you can actually get out of the carriage halfway through the journey and climb on the roof - something they outlawed in the days of InterCity.

Still, for a rompingly silly action spectacular full of chases and fights and more chases and fights and even more chases and fights followed by a robot invasion of Australia and another fight, Total Recall 2012 is rather fun. Don't let loyalty to Paul Verhoeven's dynamite original keep you away: it's certainly nowhere near it, but it's not awful either and despite the silliness it's visually impressive, Kate Beckinsale gives good head-kicking villainy and it never gets dull. Colour me pleasantly surprised by it.


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