Based on sci-fi author Philip K. Dick's short story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale," the original Total Recall starred the doltishly charismatic Arnold Schwarzenegger as Doug Quaid, an Earthbound construction worker who discovers that he may be a spy and is forced into a wild, futuristic ride to Mars. In the even slicker, 2012 version, directed by Len Wiseman (Live Free or Die Hard, Underworld), Quaid (played this time by Colin Farrell) is a robot builder who comes to a similar realization and is thrown into an ongoing battle against a tyrannical regime on Earth. Wiseman's vision of a future caught in an endless class warfare seems calculated to attract a new generation of politicized moviegoers. But do Total Recall's high-tech production design and flashy fight scenes just distract from its lack of substance?
Absolutely: Wiseman's Recall is "the definition of a pointless remake," says Scott Tobias at A.V. Club. The "typically bloodless PG-13 affair" is a mess of generic violence and machine-gun battles no more impressive than a game of laser tag. Sure it's an ideal time, politically, to resurrect Total Recall's class warfare themes, but Wiseman's version squanders the opportunity by putting "an ineffectual gloss on potent material." Next to Paul Verhoeven's original, this modern re-imagination is nothing more than a "thoughtless spectacle."
"Review: Total Recall"
It has its faults, but the story benefits from a remake: Sure, there are some fuzzy plot points, says Scott Mantz at Access Hollywood, but Wiseman's ambitious film is pretty faithful to the original plot with the added bonus of a lavish production that is "smart, sexy, and action-packed." And the casting works: Farrell ably fills the very big shoes vacated by Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Kate Beckinsale — who is married to Wiseman — shines as the quintessential bad "guy."
"Total Recall is your fantasy, sublimely blending classic sci-fi, action"
If nothing else, it's fun to look at: Wiseman offers plenty of eye candy, says Josh Wigler at MTV. "Synthetic soldiers pollute the streets, buildings are suspended in midair" and vehicles whip around the sky. But the biggest new addition, The Fall — a transportation system that takes passengers from one oppressed area of Earth to a distant upscale zone — is a masterstroke. When the train passes through the molten core of the Earth, passengers are put into a zero-gravity situation, setting up a fight scene that is, by far, "the standout in the film."
"Five Reasons To See Total Recall"
Consensus: While it boasts some impressive action sequences, Total Recall lacks the intricacy, humor, and fleshed-out characters that made the original sci-fi film so captivating.