The thing I like most about the Total Recall remake is the – I have to presume ironic – name of its production company. The first words that appear on screen are "Original Film". After 20 minutes of this well-designed and passably kinetic, albeit utterly humourless and derivative retread, I began to feel those two words like some kind of goading, pulsing taunt, as if they'd been implanted in my brain like the bespoke memories you can buy in the movie.
This may be because I loved the first Total Recall of 1990, even with its wilful crassness and ultra-violence, and its mixture of big ideas and graphic B-movie space operatics on a hefty studio budget. I saw it three times in its opening week – I was a fan. So I wasn't too taken with hearing the reboot's director, Len Wiseman, in media interviews recently putting down Paul Verhoeven's original film. I saw this as the necessary pre-emptive self-defence tactic of a man remaking a pretty decent movie – some people think a sci-fi classic – long before remake time has come due (has the lesson of the two Hulk movies been lost on everyone in Hollywood?) – but, come on, Len, really?
Wiseman's version isn't just a remake of Total Recall, it pecks vulture-like at the iconography of so many sci-fi classics that we pass beyond the realm of the mere homage into a zone in which movies are assembled collage-style from other movies. In his production design, Wiseman ransacks a trunkful of stale old futures to build his own. Thus, we get the basic Blade Runner cityscape: monsoonal rain and humidity, perma-dusk and millions of Asian people with parasols. The cops look like Imperial Stormtroopers, while their synthetic replacements – echoes of RoboCop – look exactly like leftover assembly-line cyborgs from I, Robot. The enormously detailed and, I'll concede, rather impressive set design owes a lot to the multi-tiered modernist Babel of Lang's Metropolis, which is just a classier kind of pilfery.
What is lacking is the vivid tabloid energy of Verhoeven's film, that capacity to lay high ideas in among the kind of low-brow violence and sex that hits the audience in its collective sweet spot, right when they least expect it – and most enjoy it. The remake runs on rails from A to Z, and what Wiseman gains in his grimy, ill-lit visuals he loses in the acting: everyone here is a name actor who bores me (Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale – AKA Mrs Wiseman), or an actor I love (Bryan Cranston, Bill Nighy) being underused or miscast.
Ironically titled production companies aside, the other thing I like about Total Recall 2.0 is that it means we won't be seeing another of Wiseman's Underworld movies this year. As someone who considers that franchise a Eurotrash Twilight with bloodbags – and no worth as horror or film – I'll take that as compensation.
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image: © Ewen Roberts