“Total Recall”, the unnecessary remake starring Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, and Kate Beckinsale, proves that all the computer-generated imagery in the digital world cannot simulate a believable storyline. This movie stands proudly in the company of “Transformers”, “G.I. Joe”, and every other action flick with gossamer believability.
The story involves a factory worker named Douglas Quaid (the pectoral Mr. Farrell) who struggles with his boring life and recurring dreams which involve a mystery woman (a bland Ms. Biel). Eventually Quaid gets so sick of his dingy apartment–better than most one bedrooms in Manhattan–and his beautiful wife (Ms. Beckinsale), that he decides to visit a clinic called Rekall to undergo a memory transplant procedure. Upon said procedure, Quaid discovers nothing is at it seems–or rather, everything is as expected for a reboot of the 1990 “Total Recall.” The dispirited factory worker turns out to be a secret agent working for rebels against the tyranny of the United Federation of Britain.
In general, the tone of “Total Recall” is too uneven. For example: at Rekall, Quaid has an oddly philosophical dialogue with an employee played by John Cho. While the two ruminate on the objective and subjective qualities of memory, most of the audience is probably wondering why Harold is talking to Alexander the Great. Moments later, gunfire erupts. We are later treated to another thinking cap scene when Quaid meets the rebel leader. They talk about how the heart dwells in the Present, and not the Past. Moments later, gunfire erupts.
Part of the underlying problem with this reboot also falls on Colin Farrell. Mr. Farrell can actually act, and unfortunately tries to do so. As a result, he earnestly delivers lines such as: “If I’m not me, then who the hell am I?” This contrasts with the original version, in which Schwarzenegger gave his as-usual hammy performance. Monosyllabic Austrian accents work nicely with ridiculous lines. And so, self-aware lightheartedness would have been preferable to a dour portrayal of inner turmoil and self discovery.
These carps are to some extent beside the point. Action scenes are what the summer audience craves, and “Total Recall” occasionally provides those thrills. A highway chase scene stands out, in which movement pivots across all three dimensions. Another scene also cleverly plays with verticality: action occurs in zero gravity as Quaid and enemies zip through the middle of the earth. That’s right–in the future, people travel through the earth’s core—because this is cheaper and safer than airfare.
Back to the positives of “Rekall,” Kate Beckinsale succeeds as the vixen agent dispatched to capture Quaid. Her animosity invigorates otherwise by-the-book fight scenes.
Ultimately, too much of this movie falters for an audience to be satisfactorily entertained. On the one hand, the concept of unreliable memory gets a queasily effective treatment, at one point even approaching the Nolanesque. But the story does not compel and feels oddly dated, e.g., the United Federation of Britain oppresses a Colony portrayed like a neo-Hong Kong: this would be relevant in a strictly historical sense. And Bryan Cranston is largely wasted as the evil head honcho, too conversational to be an arch villain but not particularly wry or funny either. Thus, “Total Recall” earns back some of its ticket fare, but falls quickly to the wayside of one’s memory. In short, total recall in title only.
SECOND OPINION | Read Craig Younkin’s exclusive Facebook review of “Total Recall” here.