In a desperate attempt to shed the reputation I have among Maynoothians for only appreciating Lithuanian art cinema, I saw Total Recall last night. I haven't seen the original film, so I have no idea how they compare. I imagine Arnie was more convincing in the role of a man struggling to remember things, what with that being his natural demeanour in front of a camera. Whatever about his wooden acting abilities, however, in the action movie genre he had a presence few can match - Terminator I and II being definitive proof of that. Colin Farrell should feel no shame in Schwarzenegger's shadow, if that is the case.
As for the film itself, the best thing I can say about it is that it wasn't boring. That may sound like damnation with the faintest of praise, but for films of this kind I generally don't expect much more than that. Of course films can (and perhaps should) aim to do more. Seeing the rain relentlessly pouring down in the dark city streets couldn't but remind me of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, a film with similar elements to Total Recall (both are based on works by Philip Dick) but with far superior depth and impact (the scene with the Immortal Game followed by the creature confronting its creator is chillingly good). Where Blade Runner follows through on its convictions (perhaps at the cost of initial appeal and revenue), Total Recall backs away, leaving the woman with three breasts standing out like a sore thumb. What we end up with, in effect, is a simple chase movie that forgets about the stuff that made it potentially interesting. Since I'm a sucker for a chase movie I can get by (I enjoyed U.S. Marshals, for flip sake), but only just.
I also couldn't but think of that other Colin Farrell film based on a Philip Dick story (is this becoming a niche genre?): Minority Report. Total Recall pales in comparison to that work, but that didn't have to be the case. The elements are just as interesting; the executions, however, are light-years apart. One can only speculate that if this were the original Total Recall film, no one would deem it worthy of a remake, except maybe to right its wrongs.
One final point. Slavoj Zizek has noted the increasing absence of sex in Hollywood. For example, where James Bond would traditionally bed the female protagonist at film's end, the latest -- and crappiest -- adaptation had no such moment. Zizek sees this airbrushing out of sex as part of some liberal ideology, but I'm not entirely sure what he's getting at. Still, Total Recall, if you want it to be, is more evidence that he may be on to something. Apparently a sex scene between Farrell and Beckinsale was shot (by her husband, no less) but it never made the final cut. The most that Total Recall can accommodate in a film starring a Hollywood hunk alongside two Hollywood beauties is a short, awkward kiss between Farrell and Biel. Since this is hardly the puritanisation of Hollywood, what else might be going on here?*
* Paragraph not to be confused with a demand for more sex in films.