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Total Recall: How does Colin Farrell’s new flick stack up against Arnie’s 1990s version?

The Irishman does a fine job of playing a factory worker turned super spy but a certain wow factor is missing.

I Recall a Gypsy Woman: Douglas Quaid (Farrell) gets ready for some new memories.
I Recall a Gypsy Woman: Douglas Quaid (Farrell) gets ready for some new memories.
Image: Sony Pictures

WHEN TOTAL RECALL appeared at cinemas in 1990 it stunned audiences with its special effects, mind-warping storyline and a talking head that delivered a catchy one-liner before exploding.

Starring Arnold Schwarznegger, a man that defined the 1980s action movie with hits such as Terminator and Predator, Total Recall embraced a new decade with a tale about life on Mars and wives with itchy trigger fingers.

Len Wiseman, the director responsible for two of the Underworld films, was given the go-ahead, and a multi-million budget, by Sony Pictures to show us just how the 21st Century can handle a story about the 21st Century.

The action moves from Mars to a gas-poisoned Earth but handsome everyman Douglas Quaid still dreams of being a super spy.

Following a chemical war in the middle of the 21st Century, only two regions of the world remain inhabitable – the upper class United Federation of Great Britain and the boisterous and rudimentary Colony (Australia).

Colin Farrell plays Quaid, unhappy in his job but comforted by the presence of an understanding wife (Kate Beckinsdale). Lack of advancement in the workplace and troubling dreams about being chased alongside a gun-toting Jessica Biel combine to leave Quaid asking questions about his role in the world.

One night, after a grinding shift on the synthetic police force assembly line, Quaid stops by the Orient-themed offices of Rekall, a company that claims it can implant new, exciting memories in customer’s adventure-starved brains.

The procedure goes awry and Quaid is soon running for his life over rain-sodden rooftops and back to an unforgiving wife.

Short story long

Based on a short story by celebrated science fiction writer Philip K Dick, the new Total Recall has more in common with the 1990 film but strives to break new ground.

It has many similarities with Minority Report, which proved a success for Tom Cruise and also starred Colin Farrell. The best sequences of this outing come from sequences where Quaid is being pursued by the authorities, robot cops and Beckinsdale.

Quaid must follow a series of meagre clues to piece together who he really is while the powers that be close the net around him and plan to replace the Colony grunts with a more efficient, robotic class of workers.

The English actress, who starred as Selene in the Underworld series, is excellent as a wife with ‘the seven year itch’ and there is good support from Bookeem Woodbine, as Quaid’s friend Harry, and Jessica Biel, a resistance fighter.

‘Honey, you forgot your lunch’: Lori (Kate Beckinsdale) chases after her husband. (Credit: Sony Pictures)

Bill Nighy is underused as resistance leader Matthias and Bryan Cranston, playing the political head of the United Federation of Great Britain, never gets enough meaningful dialogue to portray the sinister side he has perfected in Breaking Bad.

Schwarznegger could hack and shoot with the best of them but there has rarely been a better man at delivering one-liners.

Farrell handles the action scenes deftly and puts in a fine performance of a man struggling to find the truth when he can not even trust his own mind. His catchphrases are good but Arnie’s are better.

The verdict

The original also had a stand-out scene where Schawrznegger’s Quaid transforms back from the middle-aged woman and flings a talking head that quips ‘Get ready for a surprise’ before exploding.

The two best moments in Total Recall (2012) come from a gravity defying car chase and some innovative mobile phone technology that will leave many in the audience thinking ‘I want one of those’.

An enjoyable romp is tapered somewhat by an explosives filled ending that must have surely used up half the budget when subtleness or an unexpected twist may have better served.

Bladerunner did it best but Total Recall settles for an orgy of gun-fire and a hero’s kiss.

Top Trumps

Arnie (AP Photo/Reed Saxon) and Farreller (AP Photo/Francois Mori).

‘If I’m not me, then who the hell am I?’

Deadpan Arnie (9) vs. Perplexed Colin (8)

The estranged wife

Sharon Stone’s gym bunny (8) vs. Kate Beckinsdale’s ninja kicks (9)

Chase sequence

Hover crafts and lift shafts (7) vs. Roofstops and jet cars (9)

Special effect surprise

The exploding head (9) vs. Handy phones (7)

Tracking bug removal

Out the nose (9) vs. Out the arm (7)

Fight scenes

Brute strength (8) vs. Jason Bourne (9)

The three-breasted prostitute

Fashion faux-pas (7) vs. Kaitlyn Leeb (9)

Best one-liner

‘Consider this a divorce’ (9) vs. ‘It’s safe to say we’re separated’ (7)


To get you in the mood for the 29 August release of Total Recall, and to give you some movie-watching research, here is the trailer for the 1990 movie:

YouTube credit: TheAlpacino921

Here is what Len Wiseman and his editing team put together to entice you into the cinemas.

YouTube credit: http: FilmTrailerZone

Total Recall is released nationwide on 29 August.

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About the author:

Patrick McCarry

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