Len Wiseman’s very busy, very noisy, very lens-flare-riddled remake of Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall benefits from Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel, and…well, that’s about it. Of course, saying that Farrell is a better actor than Arnold Schwarzenegger is hardly high praise (Zeppo Marx was a better actor than Der Arnold). Kate Beckinsale isn’t up to the level of Sharon Stone, however, she has the distinct advantage of being the director’s wife. The film itself is at best perfunctory, at worst kind of stupid and, in either case, unnecessary. I’m not cheesed that Wiseman and company have defamed the original. It’s not like the 1990 film is all that hot, but it did have the courage of its splattery hard R-rated convictions. The PG-13 version has neither courage, nor convictions — just CGI and lens flare. Hell, it even has really obvious CGI lens flare (take that J.J. Abrams).
Point-by-point comparisons don’t’ help (despite my lack of reverence for the original). The problem with this Total Recall is that it’s just not all that interesting. Yes, the whole idea of finding out you’re not who think you are is interesting, but it’s so completely swamped by interminable action scenes that I found it hard to care. And the action scenes? Well, they’re fine in their standard CGI-effects way. They have little or no actual identity or personality, and could have been lifted from just about any sci-fi actioner of the past several years. (Since you could say the same about Wiseman’s Underworld movies — changing sci-fi actioner to horror actioner — it might be possible to make a case that this lack of personality is a wayward signature style, but that’s getting awfully existential about a movie that’s this dumb.)
The whole thing hinges on factory-worker schlub Douglas Quaid (Farrell) finding out he’s really the secret agent of his dreams (literally) — an agent for the corrupt government who has changed sides to work for the opposition. What’s all this about? Well, the only habitable spaces on Earth are the British Isles and Australia (and, no, I don’t know why everybody except Kate Beckinsale — after she drops her pose as Quaid’s wife — speaks with an American accent). The ruling classes live in the British Isles, while the lower (virtually slave) classes live in an Australia straight out of Blade Runner. The two are connected by a kind of giant elevator that travels at a most unlikely speed straight through the Earth. (Yes, well…) The ruling class — headed up by Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) — are running out of space and plotting to wipe out the folks in Australia. (Who will do the labor afterward is not addressed.) The opposition — headed up by the shadowy (so shadowy he’s scarcely in the film) Matthias (Bill Nighy) — are out to stop him and overthtow the government. Insert lots of scenes of La Beckinsale trying to kill Farrell and that’s pretty much it.
The best I can say is that I didn’t actually mind sitting through it — and I got a few unintentional laughs out of it. Now that’s more than I can say for some movies, but it’s certainly no recommendation. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity, and language.