Not so much a remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie of the same name, but rather more a retelling on its Phillip K. Dick written source material, director Len Wiseman’s Total Recall amounts to a competently made sci-fi action thriller that features some great performances and memorable chases that elevate a forgettable and bland story that seems stripped of its emotion in favour of simply just moving on to the next action scene.
In the future following some environmental strife, only two areas remain habitable on Earth: a new form of the British Empire that’s extremely wealthy and takes up most of Western Europe and The Colony (a.k.a. Australia) where the disadvantaged workers of the world tend to live.
Doug (Colin Farrell) lives in The Colony with his wife (Kate Beckinsale) and builds robotic peace keepers for use by the police and by the Chancellor of the British whatever you want to call it (Bryan Cranston). One day after being plagued by nightmares that involve him trying to escape being capture and after growing tired of his humdrum job, Doug goes to Rekall, a company that can implant false memories in the human brain just so the person paying can have a great story to tell. Once there, however, it turns out that Doug may very well be a spy as he’s forced to run for his life on a quest for answers about who he really is.
Farrell is well cast in the role of a scruffy looking everyman that could snap necks as soon as you distract him from his thousand-yard stare, and he gets good assists from his potential compatriots/foils Beckinsale and Jessica Biel, as someone that Doug might actually be in love with instead of his wife. Together, since they get the most screen time, the work to ground the effects driven film in a real sense of humanity when the script only gives them the most basic of emotions to play with.
Much like the original Arnie starring cheesefest, the plot of this one involves constantly questioning whether or not everything is playing out inside the main character’s head, but this time around there’s less of a pay off since the action, violence, and humour seem to have been stripped from this enterprise entirely. For a movie with flying cars and three breasted women to take itself this seriously feels like the wrong move. In any slightly cheesy sci-fi epic, it’s easy to write off plot holes because the audience can suspend their disbelief thanks to the full knowledge that none of what they were seeing could ever happen. Here, the serious face placed on the material does not match the sloppy plotting and pacing that brings up numerous unanswered questions and convenient exposition dumps.
Wiseman (Underworld, Live Free or Die Hard) proves once again to be incredibly adept at crafting relatively bloodless and highly kinetic action sequences, with a stunning rooftop foot chase early on easily standing out as one of the year’s best. Even the great action and some truly stunning set design (somewhat evocative of Blade Runner by way of a John Carpenter film), proves to be too much of a good thing as the set pieces drag on longer than they need to simply because the story can’t sustain an interesting two hours.
This Total Recall has the engine of a summer blockbuster behind it, but someone implanted the idea in the minds of the filmmakers that it should be a deadly serious film. Maybe if there was even a slight bit of tongue-in-cheek humour aside from some minor callbacks to the original film, or even some originality since a lot of the film’s dullness comes from a sense of having seen this all before, it would have been better than being just barely passable.
Cast: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Bryan Cranston, Jessica Biel
Directed by: Len Wiseman
Top image: A scene from Total Recall. Courtesy Sony Pictures.