reviewed by Tom-Tom
Philip K. Dick’s posthumous film career has been quite impressive. To date, 15 films and/or TV Series have been made from his various short stories and novels. Dick’s best tales deal with questioning what it is to be human or what the nature of reality truly is. Time travel is a frequent accessory in his books as well as drug use. Drug induced time travel isn’t unheard of. Nothing is, actually when dealing with Philip K. Dick. “Total Recall “is based upon the 1966 short story, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” and we can thank the 1990 producers for scaling down the title a bit. In the 1990 version starring “Arnuld”, he is “married” to Sharon Stone and has dreams of adventures on Mars with a beautiful woman who isn’t his wife. His bulging muscles and being “Arnuld” is enough of an indicator that he is no mere office worker. We also know Sharon Stone isn’t going to spend the whole movie being a housewife. The film’s plot takes its characters to Mars where the planet is terraformed just in time to kill the bad guys and save the hero and his girl. The original short story also had a main character who was just a normal guy who wanted an adventure as a spy on Mars when the tables of reality are turned. They are turned again before the end in an abrupt but amusing finish. No one goes to Mars in this film either, which was a disappointment for many as they were expecting a Gus Van Sant like Psycho remake, I expect. It opens with Colin Farrell and Kate Beckinsale as a married couple not living the idyllic life of Arnuld and Sharon but a post-apocalyptic yet middle class existence in a grungy unlit apartment. They seem happy. While we may accept Farrell as a normal guy, we know there is no way in hell Beckinsale is just gonna be baking brownies and painting the walls in mauve. Not in this film, anyway.
Farrell goes through the motions mostly on autopilot. His character Randy Quaid shows up to Rekall for his chemical fantasy experience assisted by the always entertaining John Cho explaining everything with style. The great PK Dick moment happens where his possible fantasy/coincidental plot twist (you choose) happens when the chemical reaches his veins. Armed troops raid the Rekall center and shoot everyone up but our hero who after a moment’s hesitation somehow dispatches all of them and runs home to tell the missus. Kate Beckinsale has been in quite a few flicks which showcase her physical prowess and she does not disappoint here. Sharon Stone’s Lori Quaid immediately needed to rely on weapons, who wouldn’t against a Terminator, but Beckinsale’s Lori has plenty fine natural implements of pain thank you very much. In a nice little twist, she drops the American accent she had adopted once the cat is out of the bag, Quaid excapes meeting, as Arnuld’s Quaid did, the literal girl of his dreams. They escape from mechanized troops as well as human ones. There is a wonderful, almost “Vanilla Sky” like scene, where Quaid is asked to consider whether this is reality itself or the fantasy he paid for. It’s a great moment and I wish there were more like it. The rest of the film is one loud action scene after another. Just when you feel you’ve seen the last, it’s STILL not over. I felt no emotional connection to anyone whatsoever, except, perhaps Quaid’s pal Harry played by Bokeem Woodbine who pitches the aforementioned reality conundrum. I could forgive everything if there was parting shot questioning the reality of the entire film. That would have been true to Philip K. Dick’s legacy if not the actual story on which two films were based. When Tim Burton remade The Planet of the Apes, basing it more on the original Pierre Boule novel than the 1967 film, he made a brave move for which he was scorned. If you’re not only going to make one but two films based on one the best SciFi Writer of the 20th Century, at least have the balls to go all in like in “Imposter” starring Gary Sinise or Richard Linklater’s “Scanners.” While the action and fight scenes are eye poppingly gorgeous save for explosions, it mostly seems like covering up for lacking anything new to bring to the table.