Movie Review: Total Recall

Mike Finkelstein wants to be a cowboy. Sadly, he is not a cowboy. But then, one day, some random, skeevy looking place gives him the chance to make him think he’s a cowboy. Instead of working, though, the process really, really, really messes with his mind, and now, he looks like Jack Nicholson at the end of One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest. Next time, maybe he’ll just go to the movies. Here is his review of “Total Recall”.

Mike Finkelstein wants to be a cowboy.  Sadly, he is not a cowboy.  But then, one day, some random, skeevy looking place gives him the chance to make him think he’s a cowboy.  Instead of working, though, the process really, really, really messes with his mind, and now, he looks like Jack Nicholson at the end of One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest.  Next time, maybe he’ll just go to the movies.  Here is his review of “Total Recall”. 

PLOT: Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) is a factory worker in a futuristic, post WWIII wasteland who is fed up with his life.  To add some spice, he decides to go to Rekall, a corporation designed to give its customers artificial memories of whatever life they wanted to lead.  Soon, Quaid is thrown into a world of espionage and spying as he “finds out” that he’s really a secret agent whose memory was erased to keep him from the rebels.  But while he’s trying to save the day, he has to decide…is this reality, or just Rekall?

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW: When you’re remaking a sci-fi action flick from the 80s like TOTAL RECALL, it should be like shooting fish in a barrel.  Look at what Len Wiseman had at his disposal: twenty years worth of SFX, the intelligence and resources to cut some great fight scenes together, and some excellent actors ready to breathe new life into a classic.  All you need to do now is come up with a deeper script that adds onto the original a bit, and you have a remake that’s worth going to see.

Heh…I think somebody forgot about that script part…

It’s the year 2084.  After a widely destructive World War III, the Earth has become largely inhabitable except for the rich and powerful Federation of the British Republic and the poor, downtrodden Eastern Colony.  Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) is a tired, restless factory worker living in said Colony.  Despite protests from his beautiful wife (Kate Beckinsale) and best friend, Harry (Bokeem Woodbine), Quaid decides to try Rekall, a corporation that promises that if you bring them your fantasy, they’ll give you the memory.  But when a malfunction supposedly reveals that Quaid is actually Hauser, an important secret agent fighting with the rebel force against the president of the Republic, it’s up to Quaid to figure out if what he’s seeing is reality or all in his mind, and either way, how to save not only himself, but the people he loves.

If the plot synopsis sounds a bit familiar, it’s because it is.  For the first half hour, we hit beat by beat every step of the original film, and it’s welcomed with a nice hint of nostalgia and excitement for what’s next.  Hell, even the three-breasted prostitute stopped by to say hi, hi and hi (even though this time it was a bit strange to see her in a world with not one other mutant).  We never actually get to Mars this time around, but the views of the wasteland that is The Colony is breathtaking (obviously an ode to BLADE RUNNER), and the special effects hint that the technology may have finally caught up to the story.

But the second our new Quaid dives into his new Rekall reality, any and all feelings of hope turn to dread.  What made the original TOTAL RECALL so much fun was that it was blatantly obvious Quaid was sitting in Rekall chair all along.  Even though we wanted him to save the day, we also have the extra weight of not wanting him lobotomized in the process.  This time around, all that extra weight is lifted and replaced with non-stop action.  Forget about any depth for Cohaagen, love interests, or rebel leaders…they get maybe two minutes each to explain themselves.  Forget about the fun moments of Quaid picking his perfect girl and the technician talking about the “blue sky on Mars”.  Hell, forget about Benny the cab driver!  All that is replaced with running, shooting and killing that tries to make the film bigger and grander, but ultimately kills it by leaving us absolutely nothing memorable.

As for the actors, I almost feel bad for anybody involved because of the amount of talent wasted.  It was nice to see Colin Farrell headlining a movie again, and the guy plays a great Quaid, both as an action star and when he’s able to squeeze a few lines in.  Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel do a beautiful job complimenting each other, with Beckinsale being absolutely ruthless and Terminator-ish as Quaid’s imposter wife (a role super extended from the original), and Biel being the sweetheart, bring-home-to-mommy girl everyone wants.  Even Bryan Cranston and Bill Nighy show up briefly as the evil president Cohaagen and rebel leader Matthias Lair, respectively.  (It’s important to mention that Cranston had to act with the weirdest hair I’ve seen since Donald Trump.)  Sadly, while all of them did what they had to do with what they were given, nobody really had much to work with.

It almost pains me to say it, but while TOTAL RECALL should have been a sure thing, it became anything but.  With an overload of action and special effects in lieu of any character development whatsoever, the remake became exactly what Rekall guaranteed it wouldn’t be: forgettable.  If anything were a redeeming factor for this film, it would have to be the special effects, with everything from the flying car chase to the elevator chase to the Fall looking absolutely magnificent.  (Don’t get me wrong…we never for a second thought our heroes were actually in trouble, but aesthetically, you couldn’t help but be impressed.)  But in the end, if you want to see what TOTAL RECALL should be, go rent the original with Ah-nuld, which still holds up today.  It’s more fun, fleshed out, and dare I say…smarter than its imitator twenty years later.

Who knew?


Mike’s LIKES:

1) COLIN FARRELL: It’s good to see the man back headlining a movie, especially a jam packed action flick.  Granted, there weren’t many lines and a hell of a lot of running, but for what he was given, Farrell did a great job.

2) THE LADIES OF TOTAL RECALL: Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel…do I really have to say any more?  Like a good cop/bad cop comparison, Biel brought the natural, sweetheart beauty, while Beckinsale could have given the T-800 a run for his money with the way she moved.  Easily the best part visually of the entire movie.

3) ACTION SEQUENCES: Yes, it was way too much and left no room for any of the dislike list below, but you have to give Len Wiseman credit…the man can film a hell of a chase scene, and blow stuff away like it’s nobody’s business.  If you turn off your mind and are just there for visuals, you’ll be happy.

4) SFX/SET PIECES: The Colony, The Fall, and an entire chase scene with flying cars…all absolutely stunning to look at and take in as a universe all its own.

5) OBAMA MONEY: Maybe, someday…


1) NO DEPTH: In the original TOTAL RECALL, we knew that Quaid was still in Rekall.  That’s what made the movie so exciting…the fact that this man we’re rooting for to win may win in his dreams, but lose everything in his life in the process. This entire film was one long chase scene that never had a chance to dive into that psychological battle.  And without that, all the running in the world couldn’t help make this remake good.

2) NO CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: Forget even any exposition!  We get absolutely NOTHING to go on in terms of backstories!  At least in Ah-nuld’s world, Doug Quaid was a real man with dreams and conflicting feelings.  Cohaagen was a fully fleshed villain that had his reasons instead of just popping up at the end.  Here, we never had any time to breathe to get to know any of them!

3) NO SENSE: Yes, I know you have to suspend your disbelief for an action flick, but there were so many moments of “wtf?!” from a guard-less headquarters to a ridiculously easy-to-access military plane, that I threw up my hands about halfway through and waved my white flag.

4) S***: Seriously?!  How many times can someone say S***?!  After a while, I felt like I was counting them like the “South Park” episode when they say the same word on television.  Now that I think about it, it can make a PERFECT drinking game…


1) Ethan Hawke was cast as Doug Quaid before his time at Rekall, and actually filmed a glorified cameo in the form of a five-page monologue.  However, his scene was cut due to pacing, and will be included in the DVD release.

2) Colin Farrell filmed the one-shot fight scene in Rekall 22 times before he did it perfectly.


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