Total Recall

Year: 2012
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Director: Len Wiseman
Writer: Kurt Wimmer/Mark Bomback
Cast: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine, John Cho

Let's keep the poor reception to this movie in context and remember that the original Total Recall was a pretty schlocky potboiler. This version is essentially the same story – albeit in a different setting – just with a bit too much CGI.

Maybe we all remember the practical effects like the animatronic Arnie pulling a bug out of his nostril or his eyes bulging out in the zero-oxygen Martian atmosphere too fondly, and that renders the bland studio approach taken here unnecessary. But if the original had never existed this would have been a fine enough sci-fi actioner.

Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) is a factory construction worker building the police robots that keep the underprivileged population he belongs to in line. He's seen ads for virtual fantasy service Rekall, fancies a break and straps himself into the iconic chair in their facility – somewhere between a brothel and a funky Chinese restaurant in yet another Blade Runner -inspired ground level city slum full of rain, teeming with strange characters and covered with Asian iconography.

But Instead of Mars, the other end of his adventure leads to the other side of the Earth, reached by a giant elevator that goes through the core of the planet. It's a scientifically dubious idea but the dramatic few moments where gravity shifts in the other direction is actually a cooler idea that going to Mars.

Quaid, his wife Lori (Beckinsale) and the rest of the worker bees live in a future London while the elevator takes them to work in Australia somewhere, the poor and dirty end of the Earth where all the factories are. I wondered if the fact that the Australian end of the trip is called 'the colonies' and houses all the rabble the elite wants out of the way resonated with anyone other than Australian audiences.

Quaid wakes up from his dream with cops closing in and the proprietor of the establishment (John Cho) abusing him for lying about his own history, memories that have made the machine go haywire. After Quaid inexplicably fights back with reflexes and skills he doesn't know he had, he flees back home where his own wife turns on him as well, chasing him across the rooftops and trying to kill him.

It seems Quaid had another life where he's a killer or soldier of some sort, and a mysterious woman he's been dreaming about named Melina (Biel) finds him and leads him to the resistance fighting against the evil society overlord Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston). But the new memory he was implanted with turns out to be a ruse designed to lead Cohaagen's forces to the resistance to crush them, the wife he thinks he loves merely assigned to keep an eye on him.

The kernel of Philip K Dick's idea is still in there, but it's wrapped up in enough Hollywood gloss and action scenes to render it unlike anything he ever intended. But again, keep in mind that if you hate and decry this film as being nothing as good as the 1990 Verhoeven/Schwarzenegger version, that was nothing like Dick's vision either.

Even so, director Len Wiseman uses some cool visuals, with the cities of the future – all based around different levels – particularly well designed. The film portrays them by digitally painting out patches of the ground from the real London and showing the cavernous drops to the next level down, each one reaching out organically like a vine growing along a fence and giving the movie a real sense of Peter Jackson-esque scope.

The mag-lev car chase scenes are also exciting and visually inventive and the story actually has some good ideas that weren't even in the original version, like the piano MacGuffin. Beckinsale, Farrell and Biel are a charisma-free zone, but it's fun to look a

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