A needless remake is the physical manifestation of shareholder desire. Nobody's in love with it. Nobody cares about it. Nobody holds it close to their heart. It's a property that is owned, one that can be massaged into spitting out coins like it did once upon a time. It's like what happens when the heirs of old families in Europe decide to turn the ground floor of their 350-year-old, 100-room castle into a bed and breakfast. It's nobody's home anymore, really, but it's something they still own that can be exploited.
Speaking of exploitation, here Colin Farrell plays a downtrodden worker of the future in the have-not segment of the world that survived the nuclear holocaust. A factory laborer on the assembly line, he punches bolts into robocops (nice one, movie) and tries to ignore the bad dreams he keeps having in which he's a fugitive from some really bad guys. His wife, Kate Beckinsale, is understandably concerned, until Farrell makes an appointment with a memory-reconstruction service, that is. Then she's angry. Seems those dreams he's been having aren't exactly just dreams. If you've seen the original Paul Verhoeven film then you know what happens and why.
And that's one thing that's great about being old like me. See, Total Recall 2012, I have memories, too. And mine are of a 22-year-old Verhoeven-directed film of the same name that used a sci-fi action template to tell a freaky, imaginative story of resistance to tyranny. It wasn't anyone's idea of important at the time, but it was a blast of kill-em-all ass-kickery stuffed with ideas about a decade of American politics and economic policies that sent more people into poverty than at any other time since the 1930s, a movie where a band of the dispossessed, led by a brute-force-dispensing Arnold Schwarzenegger, effect change and take back their own autonomy. Verhoeven is that kind of director, a guy who, at the height of his '80s and '90s powers, told stories of collusion with and resistance to dystopias of all kinds in Robocop, Starship Troopers and even the unjustly maligned Showgirls -- shiny, naked, funny, populist B-movies that were allegories for the sick-sad-world they were born into.
Which means that taking Total Recall out of 1990 means necessarily changing it. And changing it means stripping it of its meaning. And that's good for overseas ticket sales and simplification for audiences who couldn't care less about their second-tier, B-list summer action movies carrying any more weight than the legal minimum, for audiences whose concerns don't extend past the presence of Underworld object of desire Kate Beckinsale.
But let's say you're one of the people in that sort of audience. It's actually fine if you are. You deserve a good time with a second-tier, B-list summer action movie, too. It doesn't have to be anything more than what it is. And if that's the case then what it is better be heavy. It better go bang and crunch and kick you in the gut and take your breath away. It better crash and collide and overwhelm you with its visceral boom boom boom. This Total Recall, though, it's mostly made of 1s and 0s and ABCs. And it moves like the slippery digital thing it is, like the floating getaway car-boats that chase each other around the screen. It could evaporate and you wouldn't notice, its hard-boiled emptiness resembling less a thing hatched in the mind of Philip K. Dick than a really weird, pissed-off, Blade Runner-themed episode of The Jetsons. It has no heart or soul or humor or brutal energy. Nobody loved it enough to bother programming that stuff into its core. And that's sad.