Word of Mouth: ‘Total Recall’ is a total makeover of 1990 film

The remake is called “Total Recall,"but many moviegoers have zero memory of the 1990 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. And that, according to the filmmaking team behind Sony’s $125 million reboot of the sci-fi action adventure, actually might be a good thing.

“The majority of people under 35 don’t even know about the original,” said Neal Moritz, who produced the “Total Recall” update opening Friday. “It was so cheesy... the tone of it was so much different from what I wanted to do.”

Set several decades in the future, the new film stars Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale and takes place on an Earth that has been rendered largely uninhabitable by chemical warfare. Farrell plays an assembly line worker named Quaid, who decides to visit Rekall, where through medical injections visitors can experience exciting lives they’ve never led.

Yet as soon as Quaid sits down for the procedure, soldiers burst in to arrest him. Is Quaid really a criminal, as the authorities insist, or are their accusations part of Quaid’s fantasy? Beckinsale, who plays Quaid’s wife, and Biel, who co-stars as a member of a resistance movement, try to assist Quaid in finding the answers.

Like its predecessor, the film is loosely based on the short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” byPhilip K. Dick, whose writings were the source material for"Blade Runner,""Minority Report” and “Paycheck.” But unlike the earlier film, this “Total Recall” eschews corny dialogue and cartoonish violence in an attempt to play the premise fairly straight.


“There’s a difference between fun and funny. We made a fun movie, but not necessarily a funny movie,” said director Len Wiseman. “I didn’t want this film to be jokey.”

One of Hollywood’s top action producers with credits on “I Am Legend” and the “Fast and the Furious” films, Moritz said he was initially reluctant to consider updating “Total Recall” because his recollection of the first film was not entirely favorable.

Still, he loved the story’s central conceit of becoming — or, as the plot suggests, at least thinking you have become — a different person.

“That’s a great wish-fulfillment idea,” he said, adding that the challenge was to make “Total Recall” less tongue-in-cheek and more in keeping with the more grounded superhero tales of today. “We wanted to get back more to the tone of the book. In [Dick’s] version of the future, there was a reality to it.”

Wiseman, best known for the four “Underworld” films (which also star Beckinsale, who happens to be his wife), said that when he became involved he wanted to shift the story and screenplay — which owing to countless revisions is credited to Kurt Wimmer, Mark Bomback, Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon and Jon Povill — away from science fiction toward human drama.

“I wanted to make it much more of a character thriller that involved sci-fi themes,” Wiseman said. “How would somebody really react to being told that even though you think you’re inherently good, you’re being told you’re a bad guy? You want to feel you could imagine yourself in Quaid’s predicament.”

Rather than rely too heavily on visual effects, Wiseman shot much of the film’s action practically. And despite heavy pressure, he refused to shoot the film in 3-D, feeling the stereoscopic technique would add a layer of artificiality he wanted to avoid.

“I didn’t want it to feel like a video game,” the director said.

Over the last several years, August has proven to be a good month to release action films, with the list of recent hits including 2009’s “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” ($302.5 million worldwide), 2010’s"The Expendables"($274.5 million worldwide) and last year’s"Rise of the Planet of the Apes"($481.8 million worldwide).

Sony is hopeful “Total Recall” could gross as much as $30 million in its opening weekend, which would put it in a tight race for the No. 1 spot againstWarner Bros.’ “The Dark Knight Rises.”

The studio is optimistic that it can bring in enough people who have fond memories of Schwarzenegger’s corny forerunner to boost “Total Recall’s” box office take — previews for the new movie have included many scenes similar to those from the 1990s effort.

In addition to drawing in some older moviegoers and women of all ages, though, “Total Recall” also will have to move beyond some fanboy detractors, who have been quick to condemn the film based only on its trailer.

Sony courted the hard-core sci-fi enthusiast crowd with a panel at San Diego’sComic-ConInternational last month, where it trotted out the actress who plays a three-breasted prostitute (a character who memorably appeared in the first “Total Recall” as well).

“I’m sure there are going to be a lot of haters out there, people who think the first movie was the greatest movie ever made,” Moritz said. “But we think we made a really good movie that stands on its own.”