There's a simple rule to follow in a good recipe. Don't mess with the ingredients or what you get will not be as good as the original. This lesson is invariably never learned in Hollywood. Director Len Wiseman and his screenwriters, Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback, make some puzzling changes in their remake of the science fiction classic - Total Recall. They kept a few major story elements, but then change others that made the original film a classic. I understand the need for improvement, but you tread dangerously when replacing unique narrative elements.
Total Recall is set in a dystopian future where life on Earth has been decimated by chemical warfare. Only two inhabitable places exist, Great Britain, where the privileged class lives, and The Colony in Australia. Workers from The Colony take a subterranean shuttle past the core to get to Great Britain. This shuttle is called 'The Fall' and makes no sense whatsoever. Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is a lowly factory technician questioning his tedious existence. He lives with his lovely wife (Kate Beckinsale), but is haunted by dreams of another woman (Jessica Biel). His dreams lead him to Rekall, a place where chemical memories can be injected. The experience turns into a nightmare when Quaid discovers his memory has been replaced and he might be in league with a terrorist organization.
The first thing that gets you is the complete removal of Mars from the plot. The trip to Mars, the mutant rebellion, these were essential parts of the original film that made it so enjoyable. That storyline has been replaced by wealth gap turmoil between The Colony and Great Britain. The Fall becomes a symbol of this oppression and plays a pivotal roll throughout the film. This one had me scratching my head. It works as a physical set piece for the money shot action scenes. But as an antagonistic component to the story, it's absolutely ludicrous. If you had an ant problem, and they were all coming from one hole, isn't it blatantly logical to just seal that hole? Apparently it's not that obvious in this supposedly ultra-futuristic world.
Total Recall has a vanilla feel to it. Almost everything looks like pieces of other films. One of the big car chases, and there are a ton of chase scenes, looks quite similar to Minority Report. The Colony looks snatched out of Blade Runner. There isn't a lot of creativity here, except in the case of The Fall. It's like putting all of your eggs in a hole-filled basket.
The characters pale in comparison to the original. Colin Farrell, who is a good actor, looks like he's earning a paycheck. He certainly does enough running to warrant a payday. The only bright spot character-wise is Kate Beckinsale. She's pretty ferocious and with more lives than a cat. Beckinsale is Wiseman's spouse in real life, so they definitely fattened up the role. I prefer Sharon Stone in the original, but Beckinsale is nasty enough here.
I'll assume that many audience members won't have seen Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall from the nineties. In that case, the plot twists may be surprising and enjoyable. For the fans of the original, this remake doesn't even come close. It did not have to be this way. Inexplicable changes were made that detracts substance. There are a few nods and winks to the original, but not nearly enough to make this fan happy.