Total Recall, director Len Wiseman’s remake of Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 quasi-classic, Schwarzenegger-bearing sci-fi film, combines the rush (and perhaps, for some, the occasional fatigue) of near-continuous action sequences with the pleasure of an immersive, vividly drawn futuristic tableau. The result, while not as deep as the original—and no, I can’t believe I just wrote that regarding a film starring the Arnold—nonetheless provides just the sort of well-executed diversion that good summer movies are made of.
Wiseman’s version keeps the action Earth-bound—the Mars colony of the original film has been replaced by the Australia-based Colony, one of only two surviving habitable areas on the planet. It is connected to the other, the United Federation of Britain, by a gravity elevator that travels through the Earth’s core.
Beyond the shift in setting and an infusion of robots left over from I, Robot, the general plot arc is the same: Factory worker Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell), bothered by a recurring dream featuring a hot mystery woman (Jessica Biel) and comforted by his supportive (and also hot) wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale), decides to take a dream vacation of sorts by going to Rekall, a company that provides memories of whatever a client wishes to experience. Before the Rekall representative (John Cho) can implant the memories of adventures as a super spy, he encounters pre-existing memories of the real thing. The next thing Quaid knows, he’s blown past the average citizen’s quota of “security officers killed” for the month, been attacked by his suddenly homicidal wife, and literally met the woman of his dreams.
Given the plot of the original has had a good 20 years to steep in the pop culture hive mind, the “twists” that follow all come with well-lit, easily observed road markers. But that doesn’t mean Wiseman’s version doesn’t possess its own charms. The production design is first-rate, creating a gritty feel of real—especially in the Colony scenes—that bespeaks exhaustive and competent attention to detail. The result is a vibe that’s part-Blade Runner (with more technological glitz), part-The Fifth Element (minus Gaultier’s flair) and effortlessly immersive.
Colin Farrell brings his usual wiry athleticism and acting chops to his role, and Jessica Biel, well, she may well have the ability—the script doesn’t really call for her to show it. As Walter White, I mean, Chancellor Vilos Cohaagen, Bryan Cranston is suitably menacing, if prone to a confusing tendency to be at the forefront of dangerous intelligence operations. (He is the leader of the world’s most powerful nation, after all.)
But it’s Kate Beckinsale who benefits the most from the story’s latest incarnation. Wiseman, who is married to the British actress and directed her in the first two films of the Underworld franchise, seems reluctant to let his wife’s action cred deteriorate betwixt Underworld sequels. Beckinsale’s role in Total Recall is greatly expanded, as “loving wife” Lori pursues her faux husband with the same lethal determination as the T-1000 pursues John Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. (And, judging from the character’s ability to withstand and evade punishment, Lori is only slightly less durable.)
But while Wiseman’s latest sports its fair share of implausibilities in science, plotting and characterization, this update isn’t meant so much to be taken seriously as it is to be taken in and enjoyed. In that sense, Total Recall is memorable enough.
Director: Len Wiseman
Writer: Kurt Wimmer & Mark Bomback (screenplay); Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, Jon Povill & Kurt Wimmer (screen story); Philip K. Dick (short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”) (inspiration)
Starring: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bokeem Woodbine, Bryan Cranston
Release Date: Aug. 3, 2012