In all its eye-popping, arm-chopping, head-exploding glory, the original 1990 version of "Total Recall" was a watershed moment for science fiction, tackling the complex thought at the core of Philip K. Dick's story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" while providing all the action, blood and guts a growing boy needs.
The Möbius strip idea that our protagonist, Douglas Quaid, could either be living out a mentally implanted fantasy or genuinely be a secret agent in deep cover, with evidence stacked on either side of the equation, is still a fascinating concept as explored in Arnold Schwarzenegger's take (and, for that matter, "Inception"). Can this newfangled remake of "Total Recall" bring a new, modern edge to the material, or is this an unjustified act of aggression against one of our favorite flicks? Let's bring the two movies into the ring and find out…
Douglas Quaid, the Forgetful Hero
Original: (Played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) "If I am nut me, who da hell am I?"
Remake: (Played by Colin Farrell) "If I'm not me, then who the hell am I?"
Advantage: Ah-Nuld. Farrell's iteration of memory-impaired spy (or is he?) Quaid may read books and play the piano, but somehow comes across as more of a lunkhead than the Austrian Oak, whose combination of naivety and brawn perfectly represented the duality inherent in the character. Farrell just seems alternately puzzled or frantic. Give this people air!
Laurie, the 'Loving' Wife
Original: (Played by Sharon Stone) Has morning sex with Quaid. Punches Quaid in the balls, then kicks Quaid in the balls, then tries to distract him with sex. Later kicks Quaid in the face, knocking him out. Bad aim with a gun.
Remake: (Played by Kate Beckinsale) Coitus interuptus with Quaid, major blue balls. Strangles Quaid, chases Quaid around through apartment rooftops and tunnels and in car without ever subduing him. Does acrobatic flips and stuff. Even worse aim.
Advantage: Sharon 'frickin' Stone. This was the movie that proved Stone was THE femme fatale of the '90s, which she later solidified with "Basic Instinct" and "Casino." Despite all the gymnastic bells and whistles, it's likely Beckinsale got the gig simply for being director Wiseman's wifey. Consider that a divorce, Beckinsale.
Melina, the Spunky Love Interest
Original: (Played by Rachel Ticotin) Rebel fighter, moonlights as a prostitute, spits in Cohaagen's face, axe chops a dude in the stomach.
Remake: (Played by Jessica Biel) Resistance lieutenant, just a resistance lieutenant, pouts at Cohaagen, wipes out some dudes with a gunship.
Advantage: It's hard to find an actress who can hold her own in the asskicking department alongside Schwarzenegger, but Ticotin is a fighter, a firebrand, and a babe all rolled into one. To give credit where credit is due, this is Jessica Biel's SECOND Philip K. Dick adaptation after 2007's "Next"… but "Next" was also TERRIBLE.
Cohaagen, the Big Baddie
Original: (Played by Ronnie Cox) Tricks Quaid into surreptitiously destroying resistance leader Kuato, sanctions the murder of a town of mutant whores, kills his own goldfish.
Remake: (Played by Bryan Cranston) Tricks Quaid into unknowingly destroying resistance leader Matthias, sanctions the military takeover of a whole nation, goldfish presumably still alive.
Advantage: This greedy corporate tyrant was played to far more ruthless effect by the brilliant Ronnie Cox, who clearly relished the role. "Breaking Bad" star Cranston had noticeable fun as well, but is much less of a presence in the story (nor as funny), and a bit more fighting skill doesn't make up for it.
Original: Check. (Played by Lycia Naff)
Remake: Triple check. (Played by Kaitlyn Leeb)
Advantage: The originals, not the fakes. In the 1990 version there was a whole town of exotic prostitutes, of which Naff was the most memorable, and her character actually has something of a heroic arc (rejected by the hero, fondled by a bad guy, killed covering for the hero). In the 2012 version, we get the holy trinity of boobs simply for a one-scene fan service apropos of nothing, as she's the only mutant in the film. Leeb is merely there to give Quaid directions, not that we need ample justification for such memorable mammaries.
Original: Paul Verhoeven ("Robocop," "Starship Troopers," "Basic Instinct")
Remake: Len Wiseman ("Underworld," "Underworld: Evolution," "Live Free or Die Hard")
Advantage: Verhoeven, in a walk. Talk about a venerable genre filmmaker, the 74-year-old Dutchman practically invented the big budget adult-oriented science fiction film before you'd ever heard of a Wachowski, or a Wiseman for that matter. Aside from the first "Underworld" a decade ago Wiseman, age 39, has devoted his career to sequels and now remakes, none of them particularly well-regarded. This youngster's got almost half a lifetime to catch up to Verhoeven, though, so given his obvious flair for effects and action he could theoretically make a masterpiece someday, given the right set of circumstances or material. Not bloody likely, though.
Violence and Bad Words
Original: Rated R for strong graphic bloody violence throughout, language and sexuality/nudity.
Remake: Rated PG-13… need we say more?
Advantage: Original, duh. This is the movie where Arnold used a hapless backpacker as a human shield. The onscreen body count was a staggering 77, including many impalings of the general head area, not to mention bone crunching. What do we have to say about a contemporary remake, filled with "I Robot"-esque robot destruction, that utterly lacks the cojones the 22-year-old one had? "SCREW YOU!!!"
Original: Minimal lens flare.
Remake: Lots 'o lens flare.
Advantage: Like most competitions, there's always a few orange ribbons set aside to give out to the "special" kids who tried really hard while showcasing no tangible talent. This one's for you, "Total Recall" remake, you had so much lens flare in there! Great job, buddy!
And the Winner Is ...
Original flavor "Total Recall" wins over the "blanched rectum-style" remake 7-to-1, in perhaps the most stunning knockout victory in the history of this column. While it contains a few cool gadgets and future concepts, Len Wiseman's movie as a stand-alone film is an aggressively mediocre, derivative hunk-a-junk with paint-by-numbers action sequences and characters as robotic as the killbots chasing them. In comparison to Paul Verhoeven's time-tested splatterpiece, the remake is a war crime against all geek-kind, one that necessitates a swift military tribunal for all those who perpetrated such an atrocity.