Will the 2012 version of the story inspired by Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” erase the memory of the Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi classic from 1990? Dick’s story is about a time in the future when a company named Rekal (Rekall in the films) implants false memories to order — vacations, heroic missions, romances –and a man who tries to buy a memory only to find that his own real-life memories have been imperfectly erased and he is neither what nor who he thought he was. Both movie versions are very loose adaptations, but both, like the story, are about heroes who have no memory of their previous lives as spies and assassins until an attempt to insert a happy memory of a vacation trip inadvertently jars loose some imperfectly erased memories of another life.
The original film is fondly remembered but even its fans admit that it is cheesy, with special effects that look like cardboard compared to today’s digital enhancements. The new version has vastly better effects and a vastly better actor with Colin Farrell as Quaid (Quail in the story). He is a factory worker (jackhammer operator in the earlier film) whose dreams seem more real to him than his waking life with a beautiful, affectionate, and sympathetic wife (Kate Beckinsale as Lori, memorably played in the original by Sharon Stone).
Director Len Wiseman (the “Underworld” movies and “Life Free or Die Hard”) and production designer Patrick Tatopoulos create a dazzlingly dystopic world. If it draws heavily on the brilliant work of Syd Mead in “Blade Runner,” at least it pays homage to the best and, after all, that was also based on a Dick story about a dark future and the exploitation of imperfect memory. As in “Blade Runner,” the setting combines the decay of edifices contemporary to our time that we still think of as impressive and useful with the imposition of harshly impersonal spaces and some mind-boggling technology that is matter-of-factly ordinary for the characters who use it. The hover car and the literally hand-held phone are great fun. There are some major logical inconsistencies in the story but it works as a popcorn pleasure.
Some people have strong attachments to the original movie and embrace the cheesiness and for them this re-imagined version is unlikely to replace that memory. While it honors the earlier version, sometimes directly, sometimes with a cheeky twist, this version works just fine on its own, with well-staged chases and confrontations and even a bit of existential rumination about memory, identity, and redemption. Beckinsale’s character is more prominent than Stone’s (yes, she is married to the director, with whom she worked in the vampiric “Underworld” series as well, but it works). Bryan Cranston, Bill Nighy, and Bokeem Woodbine contribute solid performances that keep things grounded. No Mars, no turban, no “consider this a div-ausss,” but it is an entertaining, visually striking adventure with a main character you will not want to forget.
Parents should know that this film includes a great deal of intense and sometimes graphic sci-fi action, peril, and violence, with many shoot-outs and many characters injured and killed. There are some disturbing images of mutants. Characters use some strong language (mostly s-words and one f-word), drink, and get drunk. There are some sexual references and a non-explicit situation and brief nudity (a woman with three breasts).
Family discussion: How did Quaid decide who to believe? If you had a chance to buy a memory from Rekall, would you? What would it be?
If you like this, try: “Blade Runner,” also based on a story by Philip K. Dick, and the original “Total Recall” with Arnold Schwarzenegger.