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Total Recall


Stars: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine, John Cho, Bill Nighy

Director: Len Wiseman

Mars is missing from Len Wiseman’s take on the Philip K Dick’s short story ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale’, first filmed as Total Recall by Paul Verhoeven in 1990, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Here, in Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback’s muscular screenplay, the setting is firmly Earthbound, in a post-chemical, war-decimated world divided into the European British Federation of Nations (presumably, the EU imploded some time prior to the film?) and Australia, now known (erasing its current Dominion status which might leave moviegoers Down Under less than elated) as the Colony.

So what we have is more of a reboot than a straight remake. Mars is not missed thanks to escalating suspense and driving direction that rarely relaxes, and deftly moves the narrative fast over any plot-holes. (Not everything is missed, though. Wiseman includes the memorable three-breasted woman from the first film, an image whose impact appears not to be diluted by time or revision).

He wisely gets straight down to action with factory worker Farrell and his wife Beckinsale fighting for their lives, in what turns out to be Farrell waking up shaken and stirred by one of his recurring nightmares. So he signs up for what he intends to be a vacation from his nighttime vision by having vivid memories of his unreal life as a superspy implanted in his consciousness by REKALL, whose slogan promises “We can remember it for you”.

But the process misfires, fantasy and reality become dangerously blurred and Farrell ends up on the run from Chancellor Cranston’s police with only Biel, working for the underground resistance chief Nighy, as a dubious ally…

First-rate special effects and excellent production design help create a depressingly dystopic world which serves well as a potent background to Farrell’s unwitting plunge into the life of a hunted superhero.

Farrell (all of whose dialogue can be heard and understood to advantage, unlike Schwarzenegger's in the 1990 film) convinces as an ordinary man forced into extraordinary action. Beckinsale makes her mark as a fighting female and Nighy reasonably fulfils his casting as a cipher heavy - who presumably costs less than a Hollywood heavy.

Alan Frank

USA 2012. UK Distributor: Sony Pictures. Colour.
118 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 26 Aug 2012