On paper, remaking Total Recall is a better idea than restarting the Spider-Man series. The original film came out back in 1990, and while its special effects were cutting-edge at the time, technology has reached heights since then that were unthinkable 22 years ago. Therefore, it only makes sense to apply today’s know-how to the story, which is based on Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.” In practice, the new version of Total Recall isn’t all that terrible, but it’s been turned into a space thriller so generic and anonymous that you wonder why the filmmakers bothered.
Taking over Arnold Schwarzenegger’s role, Colin Farrell portrays Douglas Quaid, an assembly-line worker in a dystopian future world where the last remnants of civilization are ruled by a dictator named Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston). Bored with his life, Quaid visits a shadowy business called Rekall, a salon that implants real-seeming fake memories into clients’ brains for their enjoyment. The visit shatters Quaid’s reality, revealing him to be a brainwashed former leader of the anti-government rebels, and his loyal, loving, American-accented wife (Kate Beckinsale) to be a vicious, lethal, British-accented undercover agent working for Cohaagen.
Inconceivably, director Len Wiseman squanders his technical advantage and gives us the same dank, rain-soaked, overcrowded industrial vision of the future that we’ve seen in Blade Runner and a thousand dull sci-fi knockoffs since then. The way the story messes with reality — is the whole movie a memory implanted into Quaid at Rekall? — gives a filmmaker a chance to play, but Wiseman goes about this with zero wit, imagination, flair, or personality. Certainly he brings none of the “hey, watch this now” sense of fun that Paul Verhoeven brought to the 1990 film. Even the echoes of the original, like the three-boobed hooker and the line “If I’m not me, then who the hell am I?” are rote and dutiful.
Wiseman is Beckinsale’s husband in real life and directed her in the first two Underworld movies. The one thing he does consistently well is make his wife look gorgeous and badass, not that she needs much help with the first part. She fills the villain part well enough, though Farrell is blanded out as he usually is in these action-hero parts, while Jessica Biel as a resistance heroine is inert as always. The only supporting actor (amid a fairly talented cast) who makes an impression is a bleached-blond John Cho, perking up the movie for two minutes in his single appearance as Rekall’s skeezy, smooth-talking salesman.
The new Total Recall doesn’t drag, but it’s so soulless that the only clear reason for its existence is to cash in on our attachment to the original. Seeing this movie will probably just make you want to implant a better memory in your own head.
Starring Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, and Jessica Biel. Directed by Len Wiseman. Written by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback, based on Philip K. Dick’s story. Rated PG-13.