Those who show up for movies solely to see gun fights and chase scenes will probably love "Total Recall." A remake of a 1990 Paul Verhoeven film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, "Total Recall" is a guns blazing, all-out action picture complete with plot twists and endless stand-offs with the bad guys. It's also so monotone and absurd that it's just about impossible to take seriously. While Colin Farrell does his best to step in for Arnold, the new version isn't nearly as much fun as its predecessor, though it still manages to be just as silly and ridiculous. Despite an intriguing core concept borrowed from legendary sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick, "Total Recall" is anything but memorable.
"Total Recall" starts with a common daydream for many movie lovers: maybe if I was a secret agent, my life wouldn't be so dreadfully boring. Wasting away on an assembly line in the future, Doug (Colin Farrell) fantasizes about doing something, anything, other than what he actually does for a living, which is put together robots designed to one day replace him. Because he reads Ian Fleming spy novels, a secret agent seems like the best option for his fantasy. He may live an isolated, repetitive life, but at least he can pretend he's James Bond while he gets shuttled to and from work.
For a while, this fantasy holds him together, though eventually it's not quite enough. As he starts to grow discontent with his existence, his best friend Harry (Bokeem Woodbine) tells him to quit whining. Though he leads an unimportant existence, he still is married to the beautiful Lori (Kate Beckinsale) and has a job. Things could be a whole lot worse. All Doug has to do is look around to see a society crumbling due to overpopulation. A wiser man than Doug might count him among the lucky ones.
But Doug is unconvinced. Because it's the year 2084, Doug doesn't have to simply use his own imagination to spice up his life, as there is the company Rekall that can do it for him. Instead of relying on your actual experiences for memories, Rekall's technicians can implant memories for just about any life you choose to live. If you want to be a secret agent, all it takes is a deposit. After a couple minor objections to the process, Doug is dissuaded by the head technician at Rekall and he's ready to take the plunge.
And that's when everything hits the fan, leaving the audience in constant doubt as to which direction the movie is heading. Is he really a spy, is it just the implanted Rekall memory, or is something even more sinister going on? Look close enough at the details and you can make a case for any number of theories, though anyone familiar with the Philip K. Dick short story or the original film will know what the answer has to be.
Unfortunately, even with an intriguing sci-fi setup, director Len Wiseman's version doesn't have the imagination to match the source material. To be sure, "Total Recall" shows us an interesting metropolis where overpopulation has forced us to construct apartments both horizontally as well as vertically. In Doug's world, buildings are strung together like spider webs that link the entire city. But even with an intriguing visual design, "Total Recall" just surges ahead to the chaos as evil government agents try to track down Doug, who turns out to be the number one intelligence agent in the world.
Though he's a talented actor, Farrell is also mainly used as a prop, with minimalistic dialog and lots of reaction shots that require him to look real scared. For what it's worth, he plays the part pretty well, but "Total Recall" is all adrenaline and no depth. The only time the movie stops to breathe is to spit out a few sentences of what just happened and maybe a hint at what's to come. Not that it matters, as it's really just about good guys shooting at bad guys and vice versa. Bryan Cranston, as the sinister government chancellor, is also tossed into the mix without much of a part to play and Jessica Biel is likeable but irrelevant as Doug's loyal companion. Though it could have led to some good things, Doug's relationship with Biel's character is laughably underdeveloped and we're left wondering why they even bothered.
"We Can Remember it for You Wholesale" was written by Dick all the way back in 1966, and many of the fears that he frequently wrote about in the 1960s are still present in "Total Recall." The backdrop shows a dingy, overpopulated world that is both incredibly advanced yet in a state of decay. Placing it in the year 2084, there's even a clever nod toward George Orwell's classic novel 1984. Here, Big Brother is again watching and interfering with the lives of the everyday man, giving us a setting for a film with bigger ideas than gunfights and chaos. Even if the action scenes are well done from a technical standpoint, there isn't much room left for story or a sense of humor. At least in Arnold's version, there were plenty of laughs.
by RTT Staff Writer
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