Can the magic of Total Recall be recreated?
The Sony film is on its way to finishing second at the box office during its opening weekend, with a projected $25 million to $26 million. And with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 31 percent, critics appeared less than thrilled with the thriller, which draws from Paul Verhoeven’s film of the same name and Philip K. Dick’s short story We Can Remember It.
Toplined by Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel, the film is set in a post-apocalyptic future and follows a man who—plagued by dreams of a past he can't quite remember—enlists the help of Rekall, a company purporting to create false memories for its clients. But things go wrong, and Ferrell’s character, Douglas Quaid, is forced to go on the run to discover the truth about his identity.
Below is a sampling of what the critics had to say about the film.
The Hollywood Reporter’s Justin Lowe felt the film was hit and miss, writing “screenwriters Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback and production designer Patrick Tatopoulos have devised a fascinating futuristic world with impressively cohesive visual characteristics.” However, the film was “not entirely satisfying from either a genre or narrative standpoint, lacking substance and a degree of imagination.”
Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert conceded that Ferrell was probably a better actor than the original film’s star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, but wrote “Schwarzenegger is more of a movie presence and better suited for the role of a wounded bull stumbling around in the china shop of his memories.”
Both films involve the protagonist realizing their mundane but happy lives are fabrications, and that they actually have complicated pasts.
“The enormity of this discovery is better reflected by Schwarzenegger, who seems more wounded, more baffled, more betrayed — and therefore more desperate,” Ebert wrote. “In the Farrell performance, there’s more of a sense that the character is being swept along with the events.
The New York Times critic A.O. Scott expressed intrigue in the film’s premise, which sees a totalitarian successor to Great Britain rule over (and exploit) the world's only other remaining population center, located in Australia and known as “the colony." However, the filmmaker’s chose to go “in the direction of maximum noise and minimum sense,” Scott wrote. “The movie has a lot of chasing, shouting and fighting, carried out in crowded, overscale frames without much regard for either action-film effectiveness or narrative coherence. So much information is thrown at you in such a haphazard fashion that your ability to care dwindles along with your willingness to enjoy any of it.”
Slate’s Dana Stevens wrote: “Everything of note in this movie is pretty much a straight lift from another, better science fiction movie: The sharpest story turns all come straight from the 1990 version, while the impressively layered production design ransacks Blade Runner for visual ideas (the vertically stacked city, the competing multilingual signage). There’s even a white-clad robot army that seems to have gone AWOL en masse from Star Wars.”
But she concluded: “Just because it’s rarely original doesn’t mean Total Recall is never any fun; this is a taut, serviceable sci-fi thriller with a couple of neat visual ideas.”