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'Total' copycat: 'Recall' remake lacks originality

Even for a diehard sci-fi junkie like myself (I swear I’m still cool), Len Wiseman’s remake of the 1990 film Total Recall, although exhilarating at times, leaves much to be desired.

Colin Farrell stars as Douglas Quaid, a blue-collar laborer who lives in an alternate universe where there are two countries connected by “The Fall,” a metro-like transportation unit that runs through the Earth’s core. The world’s two countries, The United Federation of Britain (The UFB) and The Colony, can be likened to The Matrix’s two alternate realities: one (The UFB) is obviously better than the other, and this ‘superior’ realm seeks to destroy the more gritty and less privileged one (The Colony). This setup is a drastic change from the original film’s setting on Mars.

The movie’s troubles begin, as they so often do in the cinematic world, with the film’s casting. The original blockbuster version stars the endlessly entertaining Arnold Schwarzenegger as Quaid, but the new, action-packed movie has opted instead for the bland-as-cardboard Farrell.

Overreaching is the film’s next pitfall. In a year full of movies with political slants, even a seemingly silly sci-fi adventure film like this one has morphed into a sociopolitical project. In addition to the movie’s obvious critique of colonialism and its simplistic commentary on the polarization of power and wealth, issues of environmental protection and nuclear arms proliferation dominate virtually every frame. Total Recall displays a world uninhabitable because of nuclear warfare, with only The UFB and The Colony remaining as uncontaminated locations.

Although this devastating vision seems like an intriguing premise, I could not help but identify portions of other big-hit movies appropriated by this mediocre remake. Instead of a little blue and red pill, Quaid stumbles upon his own transcendental world-view through Recall, a store of fantasy memories that you can install into your brain.

This appropriated device, of course, leads me into a tirade about stolen sets. The machinery that gives Quaid a new and potentially false sense of reality looks like something out of Minority Report, and the same could be said of the machinery’s location. Even the cars used to get around are almost identical to those used by a young Obi-Wan Kenobi to move through an eerily similar metropolitan environment in the second Star Wars prequel. “The Fall” contraption is basically an updated version of ships from Star Trek.

Beyond the film’s sets and props, Total Recall has a plot that might as well have been cobbled together from pieces of much better scripts. After entering Recall, for example, Quaid is completely unaware of who he is, and he uses his new-found expertise to find a bank with a safety deposit box full of passports and keys to an apartment after employing superhuman strength and agility to escape from his assailants.

And, of course, the movie makes sure to pull from the cliched cast of action-movie ‘types,’ from the vengeful Bride (à la Kill Bill) to the tough yet gorgeous secret agent (à la 007’s Bond girls).
Throughout the film, you ask yourself, “Is this a dream or not?” At the same time, you don’t really care, and you’re constantly conscious of the fact that you’ve seen this all before (what’s up, Leonardo DiCaprio — did the spinning top ever stop?).

All in all, I cannot say I slept through Total Recall, only because I was too busy relating it to every other sci-fi action movie I’ve ever come across. Unfortunately, unlike those films, Wiseman’s movie has nothing to offer but stolen — and damaged — goods.