First, a confession. I’ve never seen the 1990 original of this film so I can’t compare the two. Nor have I read the 1966 short story by Philip K Dick on which both films were loosely based. On the plus side, that meant that when I went to see the 2012 remake of Total Recall at the cinema on 1st September I was seeing it without preconceptions.
The film is set on a future Earth rendered mostly uninhabitable by a chemical war, except for enclaves in Britain (United Federation of Britain) and Australia (The Colony). The UFB has the upper hand, with citizens of the Colony living in squalor and many commuting to the UFB to work through a tube that runs almost through the centre of the Earth.
When factory worker Douglas Quaid (played by Colin Farrell) goes to Rekall, a business that implants false memories of exciting adventures or holidays to brighten up the dull lives of clients, the process inadvertently triggers suppressed memories and forces him on the run from the authorities and from his ‘wife’ (who turns out to be a government agent planted to monitor him when his previous life was blanked out). As the old memories surface, he falls in with the resistance (whom he was apparently a member of before his memories were wiped), getting involved in an attempted invasion of the Colony by the UFB.
Overall, I really enjoyed it, mostly because of the excellent portrayal of a future world and the action scenes. The plot was engaging, if not as rife with twists and turns as a real classic thriller would have. The characterisation, however, was mostly poor. Apart from Douglas Quaid / Carl Hauser all the other characters are pretty shallow, almost to the point of being cardboard cutouts, and it’s the action and plot that carry it along. Kate Beckinsale, as the intelligence agent planted as Douglas’ wife, provides a single-minded opponent with kick-ass moves, and a good dose of eye candy (though not dressed in as overtly sexy clothes as in Underworld, her outfit after she reveals herself as an intelligence agent is pretty figure skimming) even though she never comes across as a real person with real complexities.
The special effects are good: the cityscapes well rendered and the elevated roadways very convincing. The only bit where my suspension of disbelief faltered was when they went into the poisoned lands (off-limits after a chemical war) with just gas masks as protection (wearing their regular clothes) yet needed no more decontamination than a blast of air in an airlock before they were clean. No worries about blistering of exposed skin. No worries about wearing contaminated clothing into the clean areas. That they acted so blasé made it hard to accept that this was the same chemical agent that supposedly made most of the surface of the Earth uninhabitable.
The love interest in the film is also not very engaging. Quaid / Hauser falls for a member of the resistance but it seems to be based on remembering the feelings he had for her before his memory was wiped, not on any interaction during the film itself, giving the romantic element a passive, predetermined feel.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed the film immensely and would rate it 4 stars out of 5.