Where’s Arnold when you need him?
The 1990 sci-fi classic “Total Recall” has been ‘rebooted,’ ‘re-tooled’, ‘re-imagined’ and ultimately stripped bare of the creative boundaries, social commentary and originality of its predecessor.
Director Les Wiseman (“Underworld”) takes a crack at the loosely-based Philip K. Dick story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” but unlike the original film’s director Paul Verhoeven, Wiseman adds zilch in the way of substance.
Despite a few nods to the original Schwarzenegger film, this indulgent “Total Recall” feels like a burnt microwave dinner, making the not-too-great original look like a luxurious helping of caviar.
The film bursts out of the gate with a sprint but gives the false impression that it will be a layered, complex sci-fi actioner along the lines of “Minority Report.” We are introduced to Quaid, a factory worker who is suffering from a recurring dream. Dissatisfied with his life, Quaid questions his existence and looks for something greater to live for. Within the first fifteen minutes we are tricked into thinking this might be a well-written, pseudo-existential sci-fi film, but that lever is pulled and flushed right away.
Like the original, Quaid checks in to Rekall, a memory implantation service where you can buy any new memory. Quaid decides to be become a secret agent but before the serum is fully injected he is attacked and accused of being a secret agent all along. Is Quaid really a spy or is he in Rekall? Does it matter? With no memory of his prior secret agent life, Quaid sprints to find answers to his identity while being chased by his machine gun-toting wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale).
For two hours the film tears through chase scene after chase scene, rushing to the end, never once stopping to breathe for fear of drawing attention to the pittance of story and character. Hitchcock has created the ultimate blueprint for the chase film with “North By Northwest,” wherein character, relationships and drama are all masterfully developed within the chase. So many action films ignore that concept and stick solely to the spectacle of the chase and leave the rest in the filthy remains. This “Total Recall” is one of the biggest culprits. Quaid charges through the film with Jessica Biel at his side. Who is she? What is her name? Why should we care about him or her? We are never given a moment to know or ask or give a damn because they are too busy dangling from rooftops, dropping through elevator shafts or dodging bullets from the Terminator-like Lori.
But at least the production design is top notch, right? The dystopian future presented here looks incredible with its overcrowded, filthy streets and canals and burnt out London ruins. The cityscape and infrastructure give the look of the classic “Blade Runner” a run for its money. You’ll also find similarities to the campy sci-fi flicks “Judge Dredd” and “The Fifth Element.”
Farrell gives a completely harmless performance as Quaid. He coasts through kinetic action, making it seem like a cakewalk. Apart from the opening of the film, he’s given very little time to act, let alone sit down and take a breather. The best performance in the film goes to the brief appearance by Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”), as the war-mongering Cohaagen, who is hell-bent on destroying the rebel leader Matthias (Bill Nighy). He is the only actor in the entire film that brings an actual presence to the character.
At one moment in the film, Bill Nighy’s Matthias tells Quaid to forget the past since it is only a construct; the heart lives in the present. In the case of this “Total Recall” reboot, Matthias is way off.
Recall the original.