Arnold Schwarzenegger's 1990 version of Total Recall is something of a cult classic at this point in time, with a legion of fans who are approaching the 2012 version, with Colin Farrell, with a huge sense of dread. Are they right? After seeing the new Total Recall, I have to say it's like comparing apples and oranges.
In the original, which is based on Philip K. Dick's "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale," Douglas Quaid (Quail in the book) wants to have memories of a trip to Mars implanted into his mind to make his life feel a bit more exciting. The problem is, Quaid has been to Mars and he's a government assassin with a head full of dangerous secrets. Quaid goes to Mars to try to find out what's real and what's not and gets a lot more than he bargained for. In the new version, Mars is only mentioned in passing as the story stays firmly grounded on planet earth … or what's left of it, which is the United Federation of Britain and The Colony (formerly Australia). The rest of the planet is uninhabitable due to chemical warfare. The only way to get from one side of the world to the other is by a transport known as The Fall (think the English Channel Tunnel, except this tube goes straight through the planet). The UFB is terribly overpopulated (and looks like something out of Blade Runner), and workers from The Colony travel to the UFB to work in robotics factories that produce a mechanical police force. Quaid works in such a factory, but he feels his life is missing something, especially after having a series of dreams in which he fancies himself some sort of super secret agent. Not even his extremely hot wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) can bring him out of his funk. So what to do but head to Rekall, an organization that promises to give you the best memories of your life. When Quaid selects "secret agent" as his fantasy, things go terribly wrong when it's discovered the memory he's chosen is already in his head because it's real, and he is a double agent that works with the government – which is planning to invade the Colony, wipe out everyone and send the excess population of the UFB "down under" – as well as the Resistance, headed up by the mysterious Matthias (Bill Nighy). So who is Quaid? Who is Lori? And who is the mysterious other woman in his memories? And can Quaid even trust his friends?
It's been quite a while since I've seen the original Total Recall, so my own memories of the film are a bit fuzzy. The things I do remember are actually incorporated into the new film as little homages to the original. The original was a sci-fi action film with plenty of fight scenes – and one between then-newcomer Sharon Stone and Rachel Ticotin is a fanboy favorite – but it always played with your mind as well as with Quaid's, leaving you to guess if any of it was real or just an implanted memory. The new film, probably to the consternation of the fans, pretty much dispenses with any mystery right off the bat and even in one scene where Lori and her forces try to play mind games with Quaid, you still know by the end of the scene that everything is real.
And without that ambiguity, there's very little actual story in this one, with one major action set-piece after another. And they are some fantastic action sequences that take place on a mag-lev highway, an elevator system that may have been designed by M.C. Escher, and in and on The Fall itself. I know a lot of people are simply going to hate the movie because it's all action and little story, but I was totally entertained by all of the amazing eye candy and fight choreography. Of course, with a slim plot, Colin Farrell doesn't have to emote very much, but he looks pretty and he can fight with the best of them. I love Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel, and they can both kick some ass as well (and yes, they do have a fight scene, but it still doesn't top the one from the original). There's not really much more to say about a film that's so visual except that if you go in expecting a faithful adaptation of the original movie, you're going to be very disappointed. But, if you're just looking for some escapist, sci-fi action, then this is the movie for you. I had a great time.