DVD Release Date: December 18, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: August 3, 2012
Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity, and strong language)
Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller
Run Time: 118 min
Director: Len Wiseman
Cast: Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine, Bill Nighy

Whenever a remake comes along the reflexive thought is usually, “Does this really need to be made?” And when the original is a consciously campy, 1990, Arnold Schwarzenegger over-the-top cult classic so bizarre it never spawned a sequel, the question is particularly warranted. 

So why make a new Total Recall? For director Len Wiseman (Live Free or Die Hard), the answer seems pretty simple: to make a better version of it.

It’s also a rather different version. While both share similarities in basic premise, initial setup, and a few memorable lines, from there the two essentially part ways. Most notably the planet Mars is completely absent from this new one, as is the grotesque mutant villian Kuato. Those major changes speak to the conscious tonal shift as well; this is a darker, more serious, and even more dystopic look at the future.

If anything, the new Total Recall takes its inspirations from other popular films, playing more like The Bourne Identity in a Blade Runner world. This film boasts many of the narrative and stylistic strengths of those movies, though it’s not quite as smart or philosophical as either. But it’s not dumb, and likely more ambitious than you might expect.

It’s the end of the 21st century in a post-apocalyptic world. The planet has been lethally contaminated by global chemical warfare. Two life-sustaining regions remain on opposites sides of the earth: The United Federation of Britain in the northwestern hemisphere, and The Colony (i.e. Australia) in the east to the south. A transit tunnel known as “The Fall” connects the two regions through the planet’s core, its high-speed shuttle traveling the distance in seventeen short minutes.

The culture is techonologically advanced, as you’d expect, but also highly industrialized. It’s equal parts slick and gritty, depending on which part of either metropolis you find yourself in. Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell, Horrible Bosses) is just another assembly-line grunt from The Colony, happily married but haunted by a recurring dream he can’t shake.

When he pays a visit to Rekall – a place that offers the illusion of an exciting life by planting false memories into the mind – the recurring dream is not only triggered but revealed to be true: Quaid is a highly-trained secret agent whose memory had been replaced. With only his fighting instincts but no memories recovered, Quaid finds himself on the run from the law, as well as from his “wife” (Kate Beckinsale, Whiteout), a secret government agent who wants to capture Quaid before he rediscovers the details and secrets of his true identity.

For all the plot intricacies and inherent mind games played on both Quaid and the audience, Total Recall is a pretty straightforward thriller. It exists primarily to stage one exciting chase sequence after another, with a mix of on-the-run, high-speed action and numerous face-offs that involve intense gunplay and brutal, bone-breaking hand-to-hand combat. Thankfully, it’s not just run-of-the-mill stuff.