Movie Review: Total Recall

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“Total Recall” (directed by Len Wiseman) made a splashy, star-studded appearance last year at Comic-Con and it’s the non-superhero sci-fi flick I was most looking forward to see this year. Inspired by a short story by Phillip K. Dick “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” and a remake of the 1990 film with the same title starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone, its escapist concept is a dream. Who wouldn’t want to go on a virtual vacation where all your fantasies come true?

In a dystopian future, most of the earth is uninhabitable after a global chemical warfare. Living space is the most valuable asset. The only remaining land mass are the United Federation of Britain (UFB) and the Colony. People from the Colony (the have-nots) travel daily across the globe through the earth’s core to UFB (the haves) via a planetary commuter train called “The Fall.”

Colin Farrell (“Fright Night“) is Douglas Quaid, a factory worker from the Colony. He’s married to his childhood sweetheart, Lori (Kate Beckinsale, “Whiteout“), an emergency paramedic. Restless with his mundane existence of living in a wet, dark and dingy Colony, assembling synthetic cops every day and getting passed over for a promotion, Douglas visits Rekall, a company that promises to provide the ultimate virtual vacation.

At Rekall, a visitor is implanted with a memory, containing a fantasy life that he or she always dreams of. The only caveat is the fantasy has to be just that, fantasy, it can’t have any resemblance to any part of the real life or the brain would get blown out. For Douglas, his fantasy is being a spy agent. Unbeknownst to him, however, he was one, in the past. He just didn’t know it since his memory was erased and implanted with a false one. Things go awry in an instant. UFB officers and robotic soldiers resembling stormtroopers from Star Wars storm in, killing everyone in sight and capturing him. To avoid capture, Douglas innately reacts and decimates the armed officers with force.

From the point of discovery, Douglas is on the run for his life. There are quiet, disorienting moments where he’s trying to put together pieces of his life to figure out his real identity. “What is real?” “If I’m not me, then who am I?” The most nail-biting moment involves a standoff where Douglas must determine whether what he’s going through is real or fantasy and if he’s still hooked into a machine at Rekall. His true identity is tied to the UFB and a key to a larger plan plotted by its chief, ‘Cohaagen’ (Bryan Cranston), beyond disarming a group called the Resistance, led by ‘Melina’ (Jessica Biel, “The A-Team“) and ‘Matthias’ (Bill Nighy) and labeled as terrorists.

The story and characters are spoonfed quickly without much development. It’s a non-stop action fest to the finish. And that’s where the movie excels. The action sequences, from fierce fights to chases, crashes and shootouts through rooftops, tunnels, elevator shafts and roadways, are dizzyingly dazzling. While it’s not easy to swallow Biel as a fierce fighter, Beckinsale is terrific as a ruthless assassin. The honors also go to set design and special effects. The futuristic universe include vertically stacked structures suspended in mid-air, sleek hover cars, elevated byways, gravity reversal elevator train, hand-implanted cell phone. The design of the Colony (formerly Australia) is interesting with its neon-lit Hong Kong style.

There’s nothing really memorable about “Total Recall,” but it fits the bill as a mindless summer blockbuster. It’s a cool thrill ride.

Copyright (c) 2012. Nathalia Aryani.

Nathalia Aryani is a business manager, foreign language translator, travel/lifestyle writer and film columnist. She can be reached at Nathalia owns a movies blog, The MovieMaven ( Twitter:

Nathalia Aryani is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic ( She has a movie blog, The MovieMaven ( Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at [email protected].

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