I’ll admit it: I’ve never seen the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi film Total Recall. It was one of those movies that I was simply too young for when it first came to theaters, and by the time I hit my teens no one ever sat me down and said, “This is fantastic, you should watch it.” (Same deal with The Fifth Element.) But even I know that the central conflict of Total Recall, more than construction worker Quaid wondering if he’s actually secret agent Hauser, is the class warfare on Mars. And not, as the trailer for the Total Recall remake suggests, a do-over of Minority Report with Colin Farrell taking over the Tom Cruise role.
Several weeks ago it was announced that the new movie would not take place on Mars (!) but would concern the global tension between Euroamerica — the United States joined to the European Union — and New Shanghai. It’s clear that the producers wanted a conflict that would resonate more with today’s world, with America feeling threatened by China as an emerging superpower. But the choice to isolate Total Recall‘s action on Earth this time around yanks the remake out of science-fiction territory and settles it into the speculative-fiction realm like the ambitious but uneven In Time.
A lot of the other details are the same: Kate Beckinsale is Quaid’s duplicitous wife Lori, while Jessica Biel is prostitute/freedom fighter Melina. And even though we’re in Euroamerica instead of Mars, we still get the villain Vilos Cohaagen, now the President of Euroamerica and with Bryan Cranston perfectly cast in the role.
It’s difficult to judge Colin Farrell from the trailer alone. As I’ve said before, he’s most successful in comedies; his action roles all seem to blend together. And really, the futuristic 2084 in this remake more resembles Minority Report (another Philip K. Dick story), in which Farrell played the cop chasing after the protagonist who’s learned that he was meant to commit a crime.
Here’s something else I’m wondering: If so much of this story were going to be wrapped up in hidden personalities behind unreadable faces, then why didn’t they cast an Asian-American actor as the protagonist? We get Harold & Kumar‘s John Cho as Rekall rep McClane, who quickly pulls a gun on Quaid when he’s revealed to be Hauser. If the screenwriters were already going to load the script with Asia-versus-America tension, then give us a hero who could straddle both worlds and make us unsure which side he’s actually on. With the Rekall chambers looking like a geisha house, it’s clear that in this movie Asian culture provides only pleasure or trouble.