The original “Total Recall” spawned a bundle of pop culture references:
Mutant twin Kuato. The three-breasted hooker. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s eyes popping out of his head while suffocating on Mars. And the killer quote, “Consider that a divorce.”
Unfortunately, the 1990 sci-fi blockbuster was also a total mess.
Perhaps that’s why the new remake seems so impressive by comparison. “Total Recall” may not become the same pop cinema benchmark as its predecessor, but it’s far better.
Brooding Colin Farrell takes over the Schwarzenegger role. He plays Doug Quaid, a blue-collar guy at the end of the 21st century who shares a crummy apartment with his loving wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale).
Chemical warfare has made all but two regions of the planet uninhabitable. The elitist United Federation of Britain is ruled under the iron fist of Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), while the Colony (i.e. Australia) remains a diverse outpost that supplies much of the UFB’s labor force.
Surface travel is impossible, so the distance between the territories is bridged by the Fall, an enormous underground tunnel system that goes straight through the core of the Earth. Although Colony revolutionaries are bombing glide trains and painting slogans “The Fall enslaves us all,” Doug is oblivious to the unease. He passes the time during his Fall commute by reading Ian Fleming novels.
But an ad for Rekall does catch his eye. The company has developed a method for implanting simulated memories into its clients. Tired of his mundane life and intrigued by a recurring dream about being a secret agent, he pays a visit to Rekall.
“What is life but our brain’s chemical reaction to it?,” asks Rekall’s mastermind McClane (John Cho).
Yet something goes amiss during the procedure, and Doug finds himself targeted by UFB henchmen. Worse, they are now led by his turncoat wife, who reveals herself to be a lethal assassin.
“Total Recall” is inspired by the Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.” The original film used the heady source material merely for a planet-hopping exercise in garish violence. The latest version actually explores interesting ideas about technology and identity.
The Colony is particularly well-conceived, with floating tenements populated by those sporting the latest hand-embedded phones and glowing tattoos but enjoying scant other luxuries. Visually, this gray dystopia combines elements of “Children of Men,” “Minority Report” and “Blade Runner” (the latter two also penned by Dick). Sometimes the inspiration is too direct, a la the law enforcement officers clad like “Star Wars” Stormtroopers.
The setting allows terrific action scenes involving magnetized highways and multidirectional elevators. Director Len Wiseman (“Underworld”) keeps the pace snappy and the brain-bending aspects in play. He stumbles only during the third act, which feels 10 minutes too long and isn’t helped by the need to unleash more, bigger explosions. And as with “The Dark Knight Rises,” the ending could benefit from a healthy dose of ambiguity. There’s nothing a mind-freak picture needs less than palpable literalism.
This isn’t exactly an actor’s movie. Farrell, Cranston and Jessica Biel (as Doug’s “dream girl”) show up and do what’s needed. But there’s something extra-compelling about underrated Beckinsale as the villain. She’s the most nightmare “ex-wife” ever, a relentless coil of spite, condescension and vengeance — and she’s gorgeous at every step.
Beckinsale could no doubt inspire a trip to Rekall for some implanted memories. If nothing else, she helps viewers forget there ever was another “Total Recall.”What others are saying
•Cary Darling, Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
“Surprisingly, ‘Recall’ 2.0 offers a fresh, visually rich take on the well-worn tale.”
•Amy Biancolli, Houston Chronicle:
“For all of its dazzlingly rendered cityscapes and nonstop action, this revamped ‘Total Recall’ is a bland thing — bloodless, airless, humorless, featureless. With or without the triple-bosomed prostitute.”
•Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Too bad they retained the title of ‘Total Recall’ and ditched every quality that made that 1990 sci-fi smash memorable. What remains is a total retread of a popcorn classic made shinier, louder and crushingly dumber.”