The good people behind “Total Recall” 2012 really want you to believe it’s not a remake of “Total Recall” 1990. That’s like asking you to believe that at some point today, you’ll be solicited by a prostitute with three breasts.
That character from the original is one of several characters and scenes that also appear in the new film. Paul Verhoeven’s version takes place on Mars, while Wiseman’s version takes place on Earth, just as it does in the source material, Phillip K. Dick’s 1966 short story, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.” Also, Colin Farrell, lacking the muscles and pop-culture currency of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who starred in the original, is a much better actor. Too bad those acting skills are never quite fully used.
Welcome to the future, where the world is split into two sections — The United Federation of Britain and The Colony — which are on opposite ends of the planet. Farrell’s Doug Quaid is a factory worker living in the UFB. For Doug, things aren’t quite right. Like so many people in his world, in ours and probably in others in galaxies far, far away, he’s not happy with his life. Time for a visit to Rekall, where they can plant a terrific memory in your head, so real that you’ll believe it is. What actually happens for Doug is that the procedure shakes something loose, and he comes to learn he’s literally not the man he thought he was. And there are lots of people who want to kill him.
What follow are semi-thrilling action sequences, some impressive fight choreography and lots of stunning, dystopian, sci-fi eye candy. This is also a good place to write “Speaking of stunning…” but Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel are so much more.
Yet, like Farrell, Biel is underutilized here. Thankfully, Beckinsale isn’t. In fact, she’s so hot it’s a wonder the screen doesn’t catch fire whenever she appears, and not just because of her looks. Beckinsale is, at this point, the best female action star we have. She makes it all look effortless. Of course, this comes as no surprise to fans of the Underworld films in which she stars — and which, not coincidentally, are produced and written by “Total Recall” director Len Wiseman, who’s also Beckinsale’s husband.
“Total Recall” also suffers from what I like to call the Cranston Conundrum. That would be Bryan Cranston, who in his role as Cohaagen, head of the UFB, is hell-bent on crushing a rebellion and directs the hunt for Quaid. If you know what Cranston is capable of as an actor, you just feel cheated when he’s playing a supporting role with limited scenes.
On the same note, credit Colin Farrell for his quite apparent commitment and dedication to this role, even as his character gets lost in the film’s breakneck pace, leaving us with nary an emotional connection to Quaid or his alter ego. While Farrell’s character struggles to recall his memories, this movie struggles to find its soul.
The filmmakers are right. This is not a remake of the original “Total Recall.” It’s a mashup of “Blade Runner” and “Minority Report,” which also are based on Philip K. Dick stories, with a dash of “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones” sprinkled in. Considering all of those movies have entertainment value (some more than others), a mashup’s not a bad thing. It’s just that in a few years, you’ll probably have trouble recalling there was a movie made after 1990 that was also titled “Total Recall.”
Two-and-a-half out of five stars.