In the 2012 version of sci-fi classic Total Recall, Colin Farrell takes on one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's most iconic roles as Doug Quaid, an ordinary guy who uncovers that he might actually be a super-spy -- or just on a serious mind-trip thanks to the mind-altering company Rekall. But in giving the sci-fi action a modern facelift, director Len Wiseman and his crew make the Philip K. Dick adaptation their own (most notably, no one gets their ass to Mars in this one) while still paying homage to Paul Verhoeven's 1990 film.
And while Total Recall's blurred line between reality and fantasy raises no shortage of questions (like, just how exactly does someone "give good wife?"), the most important question on the minds of moviegoers is how this Total Recall stacks up against the original. To find out, I braved a schizoid embolism to break down the two.
Colin Farrell vs. Arnold Schwarzenegger: Back in 1990, Arnold was at the height of his action hero prime. While that made Schwarzenegger a pretty convincing super-spy Hauser, it was a little harder to buy the former five-time Mr. Universe as the blue-collar everyman Quaid. Colin Farrell doesn't have that problem, as he ditches Arnold's trademark one-liners in favor of a more subdued approach (and the same goes for his taste in disguises).
But even though Farrell's an old pro when it comes to remakes, he takes that workmanlike approach a little too seriously here. For a guy who always fantasized about being a secret agent (and reads Ian Fleming on his commute), Farrell's Quaid doesn't seem to enjoy his little adventure very much -- especially compared to Arnold, who grinned like a maniac with every broken bone and headshot.
Kate Beckinsale vs. Sharon Stone: As Quaid's wife/warden Lori, Kate Beckinsale doesn't play psychosexual mind games quite as well as Sharon Stone did, but that doesn't mean she isn't just as dangerous. And thanks to her substantial experience as an ass-kicking action star, Beckinsale drops the gloves just as easily as she drops her accent when shifting from doting wife to gun-toting operative. All of which makes her downright deadly as Lori, so much so that the Michael Ironside's character Richter was ditched in favor of boosting Beckinsale's role as the movie's main villain, charged with tracking down and neutralizing her husband. (Even if she could still use a few pointers when it comes to crafting double entendres.)
Jessica Biel vs. Rachel Ticotin: OK, so maybe Rachel Ticotin's post-Recall career didn't exactly fare quite as well as Stone's did, but she still held her own as Quaid's dark-haired dream girl Melina; it's not easy fitting the description of "athletic, sleazy and demure." In Wiseman's update, that task falls to Jessica Biel, though sleazy seems to have been dropped from the list of job requirements. And, like Beckinsale, Biel is an action movie vet, which makes their eventual throwdown one of the movie's best, and not just because they've both ditched the original's '90s-era pantsuits.
Bryan Cranston vs. Ronny Cox: Ronny Cox essentially reprised his RoboCop role for director Paul Verhoeven as the villainous corporate titan in Total Recall, but why mess with a good thing? In the 2012 version, Cohaagen's character gets slightly tweaked, transforming from an oily businessman to an oily politician, but he also loses much of his gleefully evil bite. And while Breaking Bad aficionados are well-aware of Bryan Cranston's range, it's hard to shake the feeling his talents are wasted here as a stock-issue bad guy. Even if Cranston's version does get to trade blows with Quaid/Hauser -- something that Cox probably couldn't have pulled off quite as convincingly -- Cox's Cohaagen was just so much more fun to hate.
Total Recall (2012) vs. Total Recall (1990): Following the plot outline of Verhoeven's original, if not the specifics, Wiseman's version of Total Recall also borrows heavily from a variety of other sci-fi influences, from I, Robot to Minority Report and Blade Runner to The Fifth Element. But for all its gravity-defying fight scenes and eye-popping CGI, Wiseman's Total Recall still feels remarkably generic. Because while this 2012 edition is sleeker and packed with the requisite amount of blockbuster action, it's also missing a few crucial elements from its predecessor: most notably, the subversive sense of humor and genuinely mind-warping narrative ambiguity. Not to mention those bulging eyeballs.
Winner: Total Recall (1990)