The Empty Balcony: Total Recall (2012)

It’s no secret. Hollywood loves remakes. They love squeezing new cash out of old ideas. And why not? We’re a country that embraces the familiar. We find comfort in it. It’s this tendency of the public to seek out what it already knows that makes Applebee’s and the Olive Garden successful properties in Times Square. Who the hell would come all the way to New York City only to eat the same food they can get in Boise? Americans, that’s who.

Check out this list. Film has enough history behind it now that big productions can keep going back to the well and never find it dry. Last year saw a slew of remakes, reboots, and sequels. Just like every other year, quite frankly. One of those was Total Recall, a remake of the Paul Verhoeven/Arnold Schwarzenegger flick from 1990, directed by Len Wiseman.

There’s no Mars in the story this time around, which is kind of weird. The planet Mars was central to the plot in both the original film and its source story, We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, by Philip K. Dick. Instead, most of the earth has been rendered uninhabitable by chemical warfare. The only habitable places are the United Federation of Britian, and Australia, which is called the Colony. Britain lords it over the Colony, exploiting its people for manual labor, shipping them back and forth from the Colony in a free fall tube that passes through the center of the earth. That’s some pretty bad science, but it’s also pretty cool.

Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is a lowly factory worker, assembling police robots for the Federation. He hates his life, despite being married to a 10, Lori (Kate Beckinsale). He dreams of a better life he can’t afford. Hell, he can’t even afford to go on vacation. But, a solution presents itself: Rekall, a company that can implant memories into a person’s brain. Quaid can now take that Aspen ski trip he always wanted, or at least remember that he took it. He heads on over to Rekall and settles on a spy scenario. As soon as the drugs are pumped into his veins, though, Rekall is stormed by police, and they kill everyone. It turns out that Douglas Quiad is not really Douglas Quaid. He’s Carl Hauser. He had his memories wiped by the evil Vilos Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), the Federation’s ruthless dictator. Quaid’s whole life is just a plant. He’s only been living it for the past six weeks. That ten he has waiting at home is really a deadly secret agent, and now that the cat is out of the bag, she makes it her life’s work to chase Quaid down and kill him. Quaid is joined by a face from his misremembered past, Melina (Jessica Biel), and the hunt is on.

The movie consists mostly of high energy action sequences where Quaid and Melina run from Lori and a bunch of robot cops. There’s no depth here at all, but these sequences sure are fun. Somewhere in the film there’s a point to all this running around and having your brains scrambled, but Wiseman chose to tack all of that stuff on as an afterthought, it seems. This film is all about the visuals. If that were enough to sustain it, then Total Recall would be a hell of a film. Unfortunately, a good chase does not a good movie make. The plot makes no sense. Considering it came from a Philip K. Dick story, that’s to be expected. But there’s not making sense because the story is a mind-fuck (Dick’s specialty), and not making sense because someone decided story wasn’t important. This film is the latter.

Cohaagen’s motivations are stupid. His big plan is to wipe out the Colony so he can replace their workers with robots. What, now? He wants to do what? Cohaagen doesn’t need to kill anyone, he just needs to hand out pink slips, for crying out loud. They’re already building robot cops, why not just reprogram the robot cops to build more robots? Quaid, or Hauser, as he was known, was Cohaagen’s favorite special agent, sent to infiltrate a cell of rebels, but he ends up joining their cause. Why in the world would Cohaagen choose to let him loose back in the world after capturing…oh, hell, nevermind. The chases are great, the production design is fantastic, there’s too many lens flares, and everyone seems to have gone to the out-of-breath school of acting. It’s not that good of a film, but there are worse ways to waste a couple of hours.