Directed by: Len Wiseman
Starring: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine, Bill Nighy
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity, and language
Let’s get a few observations out of the way up front: no, there was no reason to remake the classic nineties cheesefest “Total Recall.” Yes, the new film is technically a remake even though the entire setting and big-picture conflict are different. No, the new film isn’t as terrible as I was expecting. Yes, it’s still pretty bad.
Far in the future, factory worker Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) has a boring, ordinary life — until he visits Rekall, a company which promises to implant the memories of your ultimate fantasy for you. He was hoping to get memories of being a secret agent uploaded into his brain, but before the process can begin, all hell breaks loose and he finds himself on the run from the law. Nobody, including him, is who he thought.
The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where only the former UK (now the United Federation of Britain) and the continent of Australia (now The Colony) are safely habitable. The two are connected via a gravity elevator which runs — wait for it — through the core of the Earth. If you can’t suspend your disbelief for that, do not bother seeing this film because the scientific, logistical, and practical idiocies will drive you up the wall.
Where the old version took place on Mars and was ultimately about whether or not the red planet could have breathable air, the new version takes place on Earth and is ultimately about an invasion motivated by living space. It has a somewhat less science-fictiony vibe, especially since, unlike the first film, there are no mutants (with the exception of a three-breasted prostitute, whose only purpose is flashing the audience and serving as a visual reference to the original movie).
There’s a lot to like in the new “Total Recall,” starting with Quaid’s first fight scene after regaining his memories — a sweeping, swooping single-shot slugfest which reportedly required 22 takes and was performed by Farrell himself. The effects are excellent, and although the design of the living quarters in the Colony is incredibly inefficient and absurd, it looks amazing.
Unfortunately, there’s also a lot to dislike. The dialog is mostly wooden, the story is thoroughly predictable, and there are several sequences which were obviously included because of other films (watch for the zero-gravity “Inception” fight!). A charitable viewer might call them homages, but they felt more like a writing committee grasping at straws, trying to come up with something that would be popular with the audience rather than something that they themselves would enjoy. It explains a lot when you realize that it was directed by the creator of the “Underworld” series.
It’s entirely possible to enjoy “Total Recall,” but not if you like quality writing, are tired of Hollywood’s current “grey and gritty” phase, or think characters should have personalities beyond “evil lady” or “confused hero.” This is a movie for folks who want to buy some popcorn, turn off their brains, and watch pretty people and pretty special effects.