This remake of Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 original dials down the Arnold Schwarzenegger camp along with some of the content. But don’t be fooled by the new PG-13 rating.
Douglas Quaid keeps having this crazy dream …
By day, he works on an assembly line making security synths—high-tech police robots—for the United Federation of Britain. And when his shift ends, he boards a trainlike tube known as the Fall that bores through the earth's core to the only other place on the planet still habitable after most of the world has been destroyed by chemical warfare late in the 21st century. It's a significantly shabbier, shadier "workers' paradise" called the Colony. (It's located on the continent formerly known as Australia.)
Quaid longs for something more out of life, something meaningful. And in his dream, something more definitely seems to be happening. In it, he keeps waking up, bloodied, in a hospital, and is immediately pursued by the very synths he makes during his waking hours. He's met by a mysterious woman who's desperately trying to help him escape. She gets out. He's captured. He promises he'll find her.
After waking one night, he talks with his beautiful wife, Lori—herself an agent of the UFB security force—about having had the dream once again. Maybe you feel trapped in our relationship, she suggests. Quaid's not convinced (nor is he willing to tell her about the other woman.)
Anxious to find some mental relief, Quaid visits an infamous establishment known as Rekall. It's a place, rumor has it, where dreams come true. Specifically, Rekall is in the business of granting fantasies: whatever you want, whatever you can dream of. Rekall's neurological alchemists put clients to sleep, pump chemicals into their brains, and give them the virtual reality experience of a lifetime, one they'll always remember.
There's only one catch: The client can't have actually had those experiences before, or it will "blow out" his mind.
You know where this is going, don't you? And it's not just because the whole thing's already been splashed across the screen back in 1990 when Arnold Schwarzenegger was just a movie star. Quaid quickly chooses a secret-agent dream narrative, and a man named Marek scans his memories for any evidence of such experiences. He's just about to put Quaid under when two things happen: Marek announces that Quaid has already been a secret agent, and UFB forces storm Rekall with guns a-blazing.
Time for an important political newsflash: An increasingly intense conflict has been escalating between the UFB's leader, Chancellor Cohaagen, and a resistance faction led by a shadowy figure named Matthias, who believes the tyrannized workers of the Colony are treated as second-class citizens at best and slaves at worst.
So when Quaid kills all those UFB guys who suddenly show up—tapping into skills he didn't know he had—he not only doesn't know which side of the war he's on, but he doesn't even know which side of reality he's on. Has he already gone under, living out his fantasy?
It's a question exacerbated by the fact that his wife tries to kill him when he shows up at home. Lori tells him he's not who he thinks he is, but that he's actually an agent of the resistance who was captured six weeks before, and whose memories were erased and reprogrammed with the only identity Quaid can remember.
Except for that pesky dream, that is … a dream that proves to be the key to reconnecting with his real identity, his significant role in the resistance and, of course, the woman there who loves him, a woman named Melina.
Finding meaning in your life, be it an exciting secret agent's life, or "merely" a more sedentary, workingman's life, is a big theme here. Quaid, of course, pursues the former. But it's not just stimulation he's after. Plot twists reveal that he's also very concerned with justice and a righteous cause. And when he zeros in on that cause, he's committed to laying everything on the line, even his life, to make things turn out OK in the end.
It's not traditionally spiritual, but within the framework of this sci-fi actioner, it's important to note Quaid's conversation with Marek at Rekall about people's perceptions of reality. Marek believes that what happens chemically in the brain to produce memories and emotions is equally valid regardless of whether it's a synthesized, chemical experience or whether it actually happened. "What is life but our brains' chemical perception of it?" he asks. Quaid disagrees with that assessment, insisting that what's really happening really matters.
In a somewhat parallel conversation shared by Quaid and Matthias, the leader of the underground resistance insists that all that matters is the present, while Quaid argues that the past has shaped every person's identity and thus significantly influences how they perceive and act in the present.
Several large Buddha statues line the walls of a room at Rekall.
Quaid meanders through a red-light district on his way to Rekall. He (and we) see scantily clad women writhing sensually in strip club windows. And in a lewd nod to the earlier version of the story, a prostitute approaches Quaid and asks what he's looking for, then opens her coat to reveal (to him and to us) her bare chest, which has three breasts. "You're going to wish you had three hands," she tells him.
Quaid and his wife embrace, and she caresses his bare chest, alluding to further intimacy later. (She's wearing a tank top and panties.) Several mild to middling verbal references are made to their sex life and Quaid's relationship with Melina, whom we see him passionately kiss. A worker at Rekall scanning Quaid's memories stumbles across sexual images of him and Lori (which we don't see), prompting the comment, "You do have a wife who appreciates you."
Total Recall's body count is high, and violence is nearly continuous once the plot kicks into high gear. While intense, it's mostly bloodless.
Quaid, who's later joined by Melina, spends almost the entire film on the run from Lori and her pack of UFB officers (some human, some robotic synths). Within the context of that pursuit, the violence generally falls into two categories: pummeling hand-to-hand combat and fierce firefights. UFB officers are killed two, three, six or eight at a time (both human and synth) by the flying bullets. And many of the melee sequences focus directly on Lori and Quaid.
She chokes him, slams him into walls and furniture, and repeatedly seems on the verge of beating him to a pulp, unleashing volley upon volley of savage rage with the ferocity of a possessed leopardess. It's easily one of the most physically violent portrayals of hand-to-hand brutality I've ever seen a woman participate in onscreen. Lori and Melina eventually go at it with similarly vicious bloodlust. Several battles involve huge falls and jarring impacts with various objects on the way down.
A long maglev car chase involves a serious amount of vehicular recklessness and carnage. Quaid purposely slices his hand open (offscreen) to remove a phone that's imbedded there. He and Melina are both shot in the hand. Several people are stabled or sliced at close range with knives. Quaid is forced into a situation where he must choose between shooting someone who was once a friend and shooting Melina. Massive explosions result in casualties. Lori rashly and repeatedly fires into crowds as she pursues Quaid.
[Spoiler Warning] Chancellor Cohaagen, we learn, has systematically sought to destabilize the political situation between the UFB and the Colony by staging murderous terrorist attacks that he blames on the resistance. His purpose? To create the pretext for invading the Colony and wiping out its populace (an action he eventually, but unsuccessfully, initiates). We're told those attacks have claimed hundreds of lives.
Crude or Profane Language
About 35 s-words. One clear f-word and perhaps another spoken under someone's breath. God's name is taken in vain a dozen times (including six pairings with "d‑‑n"). Jesus' name is abused five or six times too. "A‑‑" or "a‑‑hole," along with "h‑‑‑" get considerable workouts here. Other vulgarities, used once or twice each, include "b‑‑ch" and "d‑‑k."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Quaid and Harry (a co-worker) have beers at a bar. At the end of the scene, Harry's speech is slightly slurred, and he jokes about being drunk and needing to go home to throw up.
A Rekall technician inserts an intravenous needle into Quaid's arm, and we see vials of blue chemicals that he's supposed to be injected with.
Remakes and reboots are all the rage these days, from Footloose to Karate Kid, from Arthur to The A-Team to The Amazing Spider-Man … with dozens of other faves from yesteryear in the pipeline right now. Still, it can be tricky business remaking a campy "classic" that featured the original action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger as Quaid and was helmed with characteristic swagger by director Paul Verhoeven, who currently has two other films (RoboCop and Starship Troopers) that new directors are now reloading.
It's no surprise, then, that director Len Wiseman and star Colin Farrell approached this remake with a bit of trepidation. At a press conference, Farrell felt the need to defend the his movie's creation, telling reporters, "Films to some of us feel sacrosanct, and the idea of remaking something seems like an insult to the original when in fact it's not." He added, "While honoring the same conventions and concepts and narrative plot points as the original story, this seemed to stand on its own." Similarly, Wiseman said he couldn't even begin to try to fill Schwarzenegger's outsized shoes: "I had absolutely no intention of replacing Arnold. I really wanted someone [the audience] could relate to. I wanted someone who is more of an everyman."
The result is a film that dials down Schwarzenegger's signature camp and arguably dials up the Jason Bourne-style intelligence quotient a notch or two.
What happens to the content? It's restrained just enough to earn a PG-13 instead of the original's R. But don't be fooled by the less restrictive rating. We're still shown the infamous three-breasted prostitute; hand-to-hand brutality and wholesale killing is constant; and the profanity count includes 35 or so s-words, among other language concerns.