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Memories light the corners of your mind

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Total Recall' remake explores the nature of memory

Current conventional wisdom (or what passes for it in Hollywood, anyway) indicates that there's very little room in the Cineplex for original ideas. It's all about creating and maintaining franchises or else buffing a modern sheen onto repackaged old ideas, so the fact that Hollywood rebooted a movie like 'Total Recall' isn't nearly as surprising as the fact that it took over 20 years for them to get around to it.

The works of author Philip K. Dick have served as the basis for something like a dozen films his stories led to films such as 'Screamers,' 'Minority Report,' 'Paycheck,' 'The Adjustment Bureau' and more but 'Total Recall' was only the second Dick-based work ('Blade Runner' was the first.). It was based on Dick's short story 'We Can Remember It for You Wholesale' and it was far from a sure thing.

(Granted, the Paul Verhoeven-directed Arnold Schwarzenegger-starring exploding campfest that was the original 'Total Recall' bore little resemblance to Dick's story, but it was still awesome. Am I right?)

The 2012 version holds more closely to the original source material, creating a darker, grittier world than the brightly-lit cartoonish future that Schwarzenegger spent 90 minutes beating into submission.

In the future, chemical warfare will render the majority of the Earth's surface inhabitable. The entire world's population is concentrated in the Great Federation of Britain (consisting of the British Isles and part of Western Europe) and The Colony (Australia). The Colony is where the lower-class workers live, commuting daily through the center of the Earth via a transport known simply as 'The Fall.'

Doug Quaid (Colin Ferrell, 'Fright Night') is a lowly factory worker, living in the Colony sprawl along with his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale, 'Contraband'). He is haunted by a recurring dream, a dream that sows the seeds of discontent and leaves him wanting more.

This reads him to the offices of Rekall, a company that will create and implant fictional memories indistinguishable from the real thing. However, something goes wrong and Quaid soon finds himself swept up into a worldwide conspiracy. With only a rebel fighter named Melina (Jessica Biel, 'The Tall Man') at his side, Quaid becomes a crucial piece in the chess match between GFB ruler Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston, TV's 'Breaking Bad') and resistance leader Matthias (Bill Nighy, 'Wrath of the Titans').

Oh, and by the way Quaid can never be sure what's true and what's not. Ever.

As someone with a lot of love for the original film, I had mixed feelings about this version of 'Total Recall.' The filmmakers clearly understood that this would be the case for many viewers, leading to more than a few subtle nods to the audience blink-and-you'll-miss-it references to the first movie. Add to that the darker tone and the truthfulness to the original story and this movie should have been great.

But it wasn't. And I'm not sure why.

The performances aren't at fault. Ferrell, Beckinsale and Biel are all solid; in fact, Beckinsale and particularly Biel might even be better than usual. Nighy is good (if a bit underused) and Cranston brings his usual brand of excellence. The pace might drag a bit in the middle, but not excessively so. The effects work is good and the story is that wonderful sort of fantasy versus reality concept that science fiction does so well.

It just doesn't quite hit on all cylinders. Don't get me wrong; it was an enjoyable experience. Aside from a preponderance of chase scenes and a final fight that comes off as more ludicrous than gripping, it's pretty good.

As far as reboots go, it could have been far, far worse.

3 out of 5

Last modified on Thursday, 30 August 2012 09:12

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