FILM REVIEW: TOTAL RECALL

By Michael Phillips 2014-05-14

Tribune Newspapers Critic

2 1/2 stars

In the opening seconds of the "Total Recall" remake, the words "original film" appear on the screen, referring to a production company calling itself Original Film. So before it even begins, the movie delivers its first inadvertent joke.

Original this thing is not, and necessary it's not, either. Then again, how many big-budget do-overs can be described as strictly necessary? Though director Len Wiseman's film is more hectic than inspired, it certainly moves. It's a straight-ahead PG-13 action bash, a goodly distance from director Paul Verhoeven's madly grotesque and R-rated 1990 version starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Like that one, this one is a project based on a short story ("We Can Remember It for You Wholesale") by the dystopian fantasist Philip K. Dick. The best thing about Wiseman's movie is the tactile quality of its imagined urban environments. Production designer Patrick Tatopoulos is the auteur here, offering rain-drenched cities built straight up into the sky. These relate strongly to the worlds brought to cinematic fruition in "Blade Runner" and "Minority Report," which also came from short stories by Dick.

Like those films, the "Total Recall" remake traffics in notions of duality, riddles of identity and, more to the point, hover cars. Hover cars! Honestly, what's cooler? Very little, that's what. "Total Recall" may depend on memory implants and ominous surveillance techniques to imperil our hero, played by Colin Farrell, but that stuff gets chucked out the window (just like Farrell, who's perpetually leaping off a balcony or a ledge and surviving yet another ridiculous fall) for the film's most gratifying stretch, an expansion of the hover car chase in "Minority Report."

The future may be a grind, and global chemical warfare has reduced the globe to two lousy entities, the United Federation of Britain (UFB) and the Colony, previously known as Australia. But honestly, it's a good trade, given the hover cars. Verhoeven's version took the story to Mars and back again. Like the Dick story, the remake remains an earthbound affair.

Farrell's character, Quaid, lives a decent if nightmare-plagued life; nocturnally, he dreams about running from bad guys alongside Jessica Biel. His wife is played by Kate Beckinsale. (Beckinsale and Wiseman are wife and husband and previous collaborators on the "Underworld" films.) Quaid's factory job lies on the other side of the world, in the Colony. Quaid's daily commute involves taking The Fall, a massive rocket-type elevator that travels through the core of the Earth and out again in something like 20 minutes. The UFB chancellor (Bryan Cranston of "Breaking Bad") schemes to put down a terrorist insurrection for good. Bill Nighy plays the head of the rebellion, which means it's rebellion with an eccentric and slightly twitchy human face.

For the uninitiated, we'll simply say Farrell's life is not what it seems, and that first visit to the dream factory for a memory-implant vacation doesn't go well. Beckinsale gets to toggle between two accents, and the talented and fiercely physical Biel's musculature is more expressive than most of the dialogue. Wiseman shows minimal to moderate facility for shaping a complicated action sequence; what he has done, though, successfully, is turn the capital of UFB into a wonderful/horrible futuristic metropolis, something like London if London were built on a Rio hillside and then the hills were erased.

I wish the killing mattered more, and the human stakes were higher. (Much of the carnage is synthetic carnage, i.e., the shooting and dismembering of police "synthetics," resembling clones from the George Lucas universe.) The synthetics march around in predictable patterns while one of the major characters struts around like an enraged supermodel. The movie marches in predictable formations as well. But when Biel's rebel pulls over in her hover car and asks Farrell if he'd like a ride, your heart may sing as mine did.

MPAA rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity and language).

Running time: 1:49.

Cast: Colin Farrell (Douglas Quaid/Hauser); Kate Beckinsale (Lori Quaid); Jessica Biel (Melina); Bryan Cranston (Vilos Cohaagen); Bill Nighy (Matthias Lair).

Credits: Directed by Len Wiseman; written by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback; produced by Neal H. Moritz and Toby Jaffe. A Columbia Pictures release.

Back to Movie Details

Movie News

Correction: Obit-Robert Drew storyCorrection: Obit-Robert Drew story
The Associated Press10 hours ago
In this publicity image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment, Linda Blair portrays a possessed Regan MacNeil in a scene from, "The Exorcist." Dick Smith, the Oscar-winning make-up artist who amused, fascinated and terrified moviegoers by devising unforgettable transformations for Marlon Brando in "The Godfather" and Linda Blair in "The Exorcist," died  Wednesday, July 30, 2014 in California of natural causes. He was 92.  (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Entertainment)
'Godfather of Makeup' Dick Smith dead at 92'Godfather of Makeup' Dick Smith dead at age 92; created Brando's Corleone, 'Exorcist' Blair
The Associated Press10 hours ago
'Sharknado 2' whipped up storm of viewers, tweetsSyfy horror spoof 'Sharknado 2' whipped up storm of viewers and tweets Wednesday night
The Associated Press11 hours ago
FILE - In this Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013 file photo, Actor Jude Law pauses, during the press conference for the film Side Effects at the 63rd edition of the Berlinale, International Film Festival in Berlin. Law feels his work options are widening as he gets older and there’s “less emphasis on playing romantic leads”. The 41-year-old British actor _ best known for his roles in ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’, ‘Cold Mountain’ and more recently ‘Sherlock Holmes’ _ adds, “You get over certain age, and you’re more complicated anyway. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File)
Jude Law: With maturity comes complicationActor Jude Law says aging on screen is complicated, but brings new options
The Associated Press17 hours ago
FILE - In this April 27, 2007 photo provided by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Anne and Robert Drew, left, join Ed Carter and Grace Guggenheim, right, during an event honoring him at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The "cinema verite" technique and its pioneer, documentary filmmaker Robert Drew, were celebrated by the National Archives and Records Administration and Hollywood's Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Drew’s eldest son, Thatcher Drew, confirmed that the filmmaker died Wednesday morning, July 30, 2014, at his home in Sharon, Conn. (AP Photo/Neshan Naltchayan, AMPAS)
Cinema verite documentarian Robert Drew dies at 90Cinema verite, documentary pioneer Robert Drew, whose credits include 'Primary,' dies at 90
The Associated Press1 day ago
Movie News