For years philosophers have contemplated the question, “Who am I?” “Total Recall,” a remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie starring the less muscled Colin Farrell, asks the same thing, but does so with guns, three breasted women and explosions galore.
Set in a dystopian world where most of the world is uninhabitable, Farrell plays a troubled factory worker desperate to escape a life of grinding drudgery. Without telling his wife (Kate Beckinsale) he goes to Rekall Corp. to have a virtual vacation. They sell implanted memories, like videogames for the mind. But something goes wrong and soon our hero is thrown into a deadly world of intrigue where he can’t be sure what is real and what isn’t.
The original “Total Recall” was simultaneously beaten up on release for its level of violence and praised for its complex story. The same can’t be said for the remake. The body count is still high, but the story plays more like a high tech version of “The Fugitive” than a sci fi mind bender.
It’s a bit obvious in its set-up. Characters say things like, “Are you actually happy with the way your life turned out?” as Farrell grimaces and mulls over a memory implant and the scene breakdown goes something like this: exposition – action – more exposition – EXPLOSION! – gobbledygook – action – action – kiss – action – stare into the camera – kiss #2 – closing credits.
But having said that it works pretty well as a chase movie set against a “Blade Runner” backdrop. Farrell is much more of an everyman than the cartoony Arnold, but is convincing as he runs and jumps, shoots and stabs. Which is good because that’s essentially all this movie is. The sci fi falls flat, but the afore mentioned running, jumping, shooting and stabbing attempts to keep the eye occupied, even if the brain isn’t.
Your humor center won’t be stimulated either. Between scenes of carnage the original had some funny moments to break the tension. The legendary three-breasted hooker raised a smile, for instance, but this movie is more po-faced, taking itself a bit too seriously while intoning standard action movie lines like, “You really know how to pick ‘em.”
You can also tell this is a big American action movie when the camera luxuriates over people getting blown up, innocent bystanders being mowed down and explosions! explosions! explosions! while the one glimpse of nudity is dispensed of within 2 seconds. This movie clearly values bullets over breasts.
One thing the new movie does better is hand over roles to women. The original reduced its female characters to set decoration, whereas Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel are given meaty, action packed parts. Beckinsale uses all he tricks she learned on the “Underworld” movies, kicking butt and taking names in very scene she’s in, and while Biel won’t need to wake up early on Academy Award day, she hands a physically energetic performance.
What this reimagining of “Total Recall” lacks—that would be imagination—it more than makes up in visceral thrills and action.