When it comes to establishing mood and tone, Len Wiseman is one of the best when it comes to genre films. It’s never difficult to find yourself immersed in one of his worlds; from Underworld to the last Die Hard sequel Wiseman has a particular knack for allowing oneself to be immersed in his cinematic world. Even the latter two Underworld sequels were marked by his producer’s touch as they felt like his work, despite his lack of directorial authority over them, and could almost reasonably pass as something he’d done.
Unfortunately the one thing Wiseman doesn’t do all that well is actually tell a story once the plot kicks in. And it is at its worst in his reboot/remake of Total Recall.
Scripted off “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” by Philip K. Dick and a quasi-remake of the classic Schwarzenegger film of the same name, Total Recall follows Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) as he goes through a life crisis of sorts. Having nightmares of a woman (Jessica Biel) he’s never met, his machinist position is unfulfilling. He has a beautiful wife (Kate Beckinsale) and a decent life, if not one he always dreamed of for himself.
Thus it leads him to Rekall, a place that gives you a fantasy memory that feels real. The problem begins when his selected fantasy, of a secret agent, turns out to be his actual identity. When his wife turns out to be a government agent keeping tabs on him, and the dream woman all too real, Quaid finds himself trying to figure out who he is with people constantly waving guns in his face.
As a visual work Total Recall is an absolute splendor. Jettisoning the Mars aspect of the Schwarzenegger film, keeping the film set on an Earth divided into two areas (Britain and Australia respectively), Wiseman instead creates this magnificently dystopian future. Ravaged by chemical warfare leaving most of the world uninhabitable, the world of the future is a slightly different version of the Mega City of Judge Dredd lore.
Wiseman has spent a reported $125 million budget well; this is easily his most involved world. And he shoots in remarkably well to boot; this is a world you can get lost in easily. He hasn’t created a dystopian version of today; he’s crafted an entirely interesting and unique new world evolving from major events. Everything makes sense in its way from the flying car system eventually winding up in a traditional highway but with some unique new features to it. Everything looks great but there’s one small problem.
It feels like the collection of other film’s parts as opposed to anything unique and original.
There’s enough recognizable elements in his film from Minority Report, Blade Runner, The Fifth Element and every other major science fiction film of the past 20 years or so approximately. Wiseman has spent well recreating other people’s ideas but there’s nothing wholly original to it; it’s gussied up versions of other people’s visions. One credits Wiseman in a way for taking other people’s visual and stylistic elements and incorporating them all together, of course, but it’s not creative to rip off the look of other films for your own without adding anything to them.
Even his own film has enough callbacks to the prior adaptation of the novel that you have to wonder if any original thought was put into this film. It’s a perfectly acceptable action thriller otherwise; it knows which notes to hit and hits them solidly. Unfortunately there isn’t anything that he does that looks original; it’d be one thing to give him credit for crafting a solid action thriller that looks spectacular in a new and unique way.
The 2012 Total Recall is just Len Wiseman adapting the story again but with the look of other people’s films.
Director: Len Wiseman
Writers: Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback, based on “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” by Philip K. Dick
Notable Cast: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, John Cho and Bill Nighy