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"TOTAL RECALL" (2012) Review

Twenty-two years ago, moviegoers rushed to see a movie called "TOTAL RECALL", an adaptation of Philip K. Dick's 1966 novella called "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale". Directed by Paul Verhoeven, the 1990 movie starred Arnold Schwartzenegger and was a big hit.

Two decades passed before Hollywood tackled the 1964 novella for the second time. Still called "TOTAL RECALL", this new adaptation was directed by Len Wiseman. It starred Golden Globe winner Colin Farrell in the role of amnesiac Doug Quaid. The movie has been as well received as the 1990 movie. And it barely went into the black. But surprisingly, at least for me, I discovered that I prefer it over Verhoeven's version.

"TOTAL RECALL" begins at the end of the 21st century. Earth has been devastated by chemical warfare and only two habitable territories exist - the United Federation of Britain (formerly Great Britain) and the Colony (formerly Australia). The UFB is a haven for humanity's elite and white-collar employees. The less affluent population reside in the Colony, yet have low paying jobs in the UFB. They have to travel there to work in the elite's factories via "the Fall", a gravity elevator, which travels through the Earth. Habitable space is at a minimum in both the UFB and the Colony.

A disenchanted factory worker named Doug Quaid is convinced by a co-worker to visit Rekall, a company that implants artificial memories. Rekall's manager, McClane, convinces Quaid to be implanted with memories of a secret agent. But when the latter is tested to avoid having implanted memories conflicting with real memories, McClane discovers that Quaid has real memories of being a spy. McClane and his co-workers are killed by a SWAT team and Quaid instinctively reacts by killing the officers before his escape. When Quaid returns home to his wife Lori, she tries to kill him before revealing that she is not his wife of seven years, but an undercover UFB agent who has been monitoring him for the past six weeks. Quaid manages to escape and with some help and funds, make his way to the UFB to learn about his true identity. Quaid meets old girlfriend Melina upon his arrival and eventually discovers that his name is Carl Hauser, an agent who works for UFB Chancellor Vilos Cohaagen. Quaid had defected to the Resistance movement against Cohaagen's rule, became Melina's lover and was later was captured by the UFB and implanted with false memories. Quaid also learns from a recording left by him at his apartment that Cohaagen plans to use the synthetic police force to invade the Colony and kill its inhabitants in order to provide more living space for UFB.

I am sure that many are either surprised, appalled or both by my earlier declaration that I preferred this version of Dick's novella over Paul Verhoeven. I stand by my word. But that does not mean that I believe Wiseman's version was perfect. One, the movie lacked Verhoeven's style and humor. Two, despite some changes in setting, characterization and plot; the movie's story is a little too close to the 1990 movie for my tastes. I do wish that the screenplay written by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback had been a little more original. And unlike the memorable fight scene between Sharon Stone and Rachel Ticotin, I was not that impressed by the one between Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale. It seemed a bit . . . confusing. I love Bryan Cranston as an actor. I have been a fan of his since I first saw him in "MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE". But I was not impressed by his portrayal of main villain Vilos Cohaagen. I found it a little hammy. Now Cranston can be hammy and funny at the same time. But hammy and serious? Uh . . . sorry. It just did not work for me. And I found it disappointing that an actor who won three consecutive Emmys for portraying a school teacher-turned-drug lord resorted to such theatrics in this particular movie.

Despite its flaws, I still managed to enjoy "TOTAL RECALL". And I will tell you why I enjoyed it more than the 1990 movie. Wiseman's direction may have lacked Verhoeven's style and humor. Fortunately, he also lacked Verhoeven's penchant over-the-top violence . . . the kind that makes me want to close my eyes. And I . . . am a fan of action films. Unlike the 1990 film, I was not distracted from the story by extreme violence, a trip to a very unimpressive Mars and mutants. Also, I found Farrell's first fight scene with Kate Beckinsale - who portrayed his fake wife Lori - very impressive. The idea of Sharon Stone fighting muscle man Schwartzenegger was hard to swallow when I first saw Verhoeven's film. And I still find it difficult.

The political and economical overtones of "TOTAL RECALL" strongly resonated within me. It made sense to me that the great distance between the rich and poor existed with such extremity by the end of the 21st century, considering our current economic state. In a way, the setting of "TOTAL RECALL" reminded me of last year's "IN TIME". But this movie benefited from a more solid script than the 2011 movie.

"TOTAL RECALL" also benefited from first-rate performances by the cast. Yes, I had a problem with Bryan Cranston as the main villain, Cohaagen. But I certainly cannot say the same about the rest of the cast. Colin Farrell, in his own way, can be just as effective as Schwartzenegger, as an action hero. But, he can also act rings around the latter. He certainly proved this in his portrayal of Doug Quaid/Carl Hauser. Jessica Biel not only projected a shining idealism in her portrayal of Resistance fighter, Melina; she also proved to be just as effective in action as Farrell. Kate Beckinsale nearly blew my mind as the ruthless UFB agent Lori. She re-created two roles from the 1990 movies - those portrayed by Sharon Stone as the fake wife and Michael Ironside, who portrayed Cohaagen's chief lieutenant, Ritcher - and put her own delicious and twisted spin on them. Bokeem Woodbine, whom I have not seen in years - portrayed Doug's "best friend" Harry. I have to say that he gave probably the most subtle performance in the movie. And it is a pity that he was not on the screen longer. The movie also featured brief, yet solid appearances from the likes of John Cho, Bill Nighy and Will Yun Lee.

It is a pity that "TOTAL RECALL" did not fare that well at the box. I guess it was unable to overcome the shadow of Paul Verhoeven's 1990 movie. Which is too bad, because I believe that in its own way, it was just as entertaining . . . and flawed as the earlier version. Well . . . at least I have a future DVD copy of it to look forward and enjoy.
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