“Total Recall,” written by Kurt Wimmer, Mark Bomback, Ronald Shusett (screen story), Dan O’Bannon (screen story), Jon Povill (screen story), Kurt Wimmer (screen story), and Philip K. Dick (short story), directed by Len Wiseman, 121 minutes, rated PG-13.
In 1990, Paul Verhoeven broke cinematic barriers with the appearance of a three-breasted woman in “Total Recall.” I’m being facetious, of course. But surely, 22 years later, we’ve moved past such a ridiculous, juvenile gag, right? Unfortunately not.
However, where Verhoeven’s 1990 adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” was well-liked by some, and had that one scene that will live in infamy forever, Len Wiseman’s loose remake of “Total Recall” will hardly be remembered at all.
Instead of Arny Schwarzenegger, we have Colin Farrell as Douglas Quaid, a factory worker in 2084, where chemical warfare has left the world divided into two factions: The Colony and the United Federation of Britain. Doug has vivid dreams of secret agent exploits alongside Jessica Biel’s Melina, but when he awakens, he’s just an average grunt in The Colony married to Kate Beckinsale’s Lori.
Enticed by the idea of having those dreams implanted into his memory, he visits Rekall, a seedy company that manufactures experiences, and embeds them into one’s mind as though they’re real. While sitting in the chair, waiting for his secret agent fantasies to begin, Doug discovers that he is, in fact, a secret agent, and that his dreams are more than dreams – they’re real. In the blink of an eye, police converge on Rekall, shooting the place up, only to have Doug take out every single one of them.
Doug, whose real name is Carl Hauser, finds that his memory has been wiped and replaced, and that he’s actually a key member of an underground resistance fighting to restore balance between The Colony and the UFB. But just as Doug isn’t really Doug, his wife, Lori, isn’t really his wife. She’s an agent plugged into Doug’s life to neutralize his threat.
From here, Wiseman takes us on chase scene after chase scene through his overpriced “Blade Runner” knock-off setting, which, not surprisingly, is one of the movie’s high points. “Total Recall” didn’t skimp on the budget, and it shows.
While it’s hard to expect much of anything from femme fatales Biel and Beckinsale, the always charismatic Farrell just seems bored in his turn as an action hero. Here, we have a character with a serious identity complex (he has two or three personalities hidden away somewhere up there), yet Farrell is so consistent and dull, that it makes you wonder if anyone took Quaid/Hauser’s layers into consideration.
A film with such a cerebral starting point should be treated with intelligence, and dare to mess with the viewer’s mind. “Total Recall” takes the easy route. There’s a breaking point in the film, where we almost begin to question the reality that Quaid/Hauser is living in. Unfortunately, the film shoots any sign of ambiguity right between the eyes, quite literally.