You might not have ever read Philip K. Dick’s short story, “’We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”. It tells the story of an average man, Douglas Quail (yes, it was originally Quail), whose fondest desire it to go to Mars. Instead he goes to Rekal, a memory service. While about to implanted with his false memories of a trip to the red planet, the technicians discover he has actually been to Mars already, is really a secret agent, and has had his memory erased. He later confronts agents of the government.
That ends the similarities with Total Recall, both the 1990 Schwarzenegger vehicle and the 2012 Colin Farrell film just released. The 1990 film, directed by the master of campy Sci-Fi Paul Verhoeven is a movie that you remember – even 22 years later. It is full of memorable amusements from Schwarzenegger’s typical one-liners (“Consider that a divorce!”), good special effects (Schwarzenegger as a woman, Johnny cab), bad special effects (the mutants’ faces, Arnold’s face when he is out on Mars without oxygen), campy acting, tons of broken glass, and a very high body count (IMDb says 77). It’s a perfect guilty pleasure as many Arnold movies were and rewatching it this week, I still liked it. Schwarzenegger and Verhoeven were a good combination of fun. This is a point agreed to by many reviewers include this one by Todd Gilchrist for IFC.
Total Recall 2012 is a very similar film. Supposedly going back to the origins of the short story, it actually diverges just as much except in one way: No one goes to Mars in the new movie either. It also takes place not in a fun future, but another post-apocalyptic society where billions of earthlings have been destroyed and the survivors are stuck in either Great Britain or Australia/The Colony. This doesn’t explain why most characters have American accents. Dystopian universes aren’t much fun. Neither are movies that take place in them. This movie needed to be more fun.
There are still a couple okay 1-liners, a huge body count, tons of broken glass (can no one make unbreakable glass in the future?), and intriguing special effects (the elevators though were more interesting than the flying cars). There are also intentional call-backs to the first movie which only remind you that it was better than ths one. Total Recall 2012 is is mostly a chase movie interspersed with Farrell looking perplexed at times followed by lots of gunfire and broken glass. Then repeat.
Mostly it is a remake: Bigger, louder, not as good as the first version. There’s a 3-breasted woman only because there was one in the first film. But this is not a film you will recall in 22 years let alone next week.
Basically: An average summer remake. You can skip it.
For an excellent comparison of the plot points and differences in two movies and the short stories, check out Ben Kendrick’s great post at Screenrant. Mike Ryan at the Huffington Post compares the two rating which film he liked better on points of plot, dialogue, memorable moments, etc.
A couple cameos to look for. Dean Norris plays the small part of the bad guy Tony. Back in 1990, I didn’t know who he was. Even watching it now, I didn’t recognize him. But Dean Norris now is better known for playing Hank Schrader, Walter White’s brother-in-law, on the best show on TV, Breaking Bad. Adding to the connections, Walter White is played by the brilliant Bryan Cranston who is the chief baddie in the 2012 version.
The other appearance of note: Watch for President Obama’s face in a cameo (which makes no sense if you think about it, so I advise you not to think about it).