Sometimes it helps to go into a movie with low expectations. That’s exactly what I did with this remake of the classic 1990 sci-fi adaptation of Philip K Dick’s We Can Remember it for you Wholesale (still can’t decide whether or not I like Dick’s ridiculous titles). Having previously been rather looking forward to see how an older film I’ve always liked can be reimagined with modern tech the less than favourable reviews the film has received reduced those expectations somewhat and perhaps that helped it.
Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell replacing Arnie) is a blue collar resident of the Colony, a post-apocalyptic slum that used to be Australia. His commute involves a lift that transports him through the Earth’s core to the only other habitable territory on the planet, the United Federation of Britain where he busts a gut building robots and dreaming of a better life. Despite being married to Kate Beckinsale he’s miserable enough to try and escape his life by paying a visit to Rekall, a service that can implant false memories of a better life in his mind. But a bit of harmless brain alteration doesn’t go quite according to plan and Dougie is thrust into a desperate struggle to reclaim his identity.
Making a film in the genre that gave us Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell and, of course, the original Total Recall is a little risky if you don’t get it right. The best of cyberpunk, a subgenre of science-fiction I’m very fond of, offers smart introspective philosophising to go with the action and vibrant future metropolises. This Total Recall doesn’t do that but it does action and vibrant future metropolises rather well. This is a decidedly commercialised reimagining of the story, one that does its world building with visuals and cityscapes rather than its script. The plot unfolds as one long chase movie that throws our hero through various moments highly reminiscent of The Bourne Identity, leaving little room for the setup involving the struggle between the state head and a rebel movement to develop into anything meaningful.
But while the film doesn’t provide any food for thought it revels instead in exciting pursuit sequences taking place in various hyper-realistic CGI vistas. Take it as a popcorn movie and it works and is darn good value for it. Colin Farrell proves a solid choice bringing more subtlety and vulnerability to his performance than Arnie was ever capable of but misses out on the iconic lines while Kate Beckinsale nicks the picture as his brilliantly psychotic wife given plenty of screen time.
It’s a little optimistic to ask people not to compare the film to the original but taking the film as something unburdened by its sources is the best way to enjoy it. Although Farrell doesn’t get his ass to Mars he does pull a tracking device out of an awkward part of his body and we still meet a lady with three boobs. These moments are fun but they stand to remind us that Verhoeven’s version ultimately offers more than this pacey and high-octane effort. One suspects the uninitiated may get more from the film than die-hards which could be argued indicates a fundamental failure on the part of the makers but comparisons should not detract from what the film does well.
An enjoyable cyberpunk romp that delivers on the action if not the smarts. Not likely to satisfy the hardcore but worth a watch nonetheless.