Remakes of Paul Verhoeven's late 80's sci-fi classic RoboCop and Paul Verhoeven's late 90's sci-fi classic Starship Troopers will soon be inflicted on us. In the meantime, Paul Verhoeven's early 90's classic Total Recall, based on Philip K. Dick's short We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, has hit the cinemas. If the retreads are anywhere near as brain-achingly dull as this bloated mess, we're in for an uncomfortable ride.
Working in a dead-end job, constructing law enforcement robots for an ideologically unsound government, Douglas Quaid is convinced a better life awaits him. Visiting a memory enhancement centre – Rekall – Quaid asks for the memories of a life lived as a super-spy to be implanted into his brain. During the procedure, armed men attempt to seize Quaid believing him to be the leader of an underground movement looking to overthrow the establishment. Unsure as to where his reality begins and ends, Quaid sets out to seek the truth...
One of the key strengths of Paul Verhoeven's (far from flawless but frequently fun) original was the importance of the outsiders. The mutants of Mars were the heroes and Arnie was their King Freak. Thrice as big as any human being should be and with a speech pattern of a child who'd spent his formative years repeatedly hurled down a flight of stairs, Schwarzenegger was the perfect man to lead the rebellion against the totalitarian Cohaagen. Twenty-two years later and we have no mutants, a standard good looking lead and absolutely nothing to root for from beginning to end.
By completely jettisoning the mutant uprising and forgetting to replace it with anything that might keep the viewer hooked, director Len Wiseman (Underworld, Die Hard 4) and his team look to their effects to save them. There's no arguing the photorealistic nature of the images but it's just a shame that the lack of originality is startling, with scenes comprising of endless seen-it-all-before copies of recent science fiction fare.
From I, Robot to Minority Report (not coincidentally also sourced from a Philip K. Dick tale) with an unhealthy smattering of Attack of the Clones, there isn't a single image or effect that we haven't seen a million times over. As much as they mark the lack of bravery in Hollywood remakes don't have to be so painfully devoid of anything new, (see Ocean's Eleven, The Manchurian Candidate). Yet Wiseman and company seem to have given up before they even began, hiding behind the theory that “those who hate remakes will just hate it regardless”.
This carelessness infects the cast who – bar Beckinsale – appear as uninterested by events as the audience will be. Farrell, returning to his first major starring role in a big studio movie since 2006's Miami Vice, can't undo all his recent good work and gets a pass as the perfunctory lead, eliciting sympathy from those who know he'd rather be anywhere but here. (Here's hoping Seven Psychopaths, the forthcoming re-teaming with In Bruges director Martin McDonagh, will erase any memory of this Quaid even existing).
In Total Recall (1990) there appeared a three-breasted prostitute, the extra mammary gland a side-effect of, and introduction to, the radiation poisoning affecting those living on Mars. In Total Recall (2012) there appears a three-breasted prostitute. For no reason.
One Verhoeven remake down. Two to go. And the first out of the block is the dictionary definition of dull. The whole enterprise would have been greatly improved if Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale had used the $125m+ budget to stage a giant money fight, hurling bundles of cash at a projection of the witty, satirical original. At least then it would have had a point.