The original “Total Recall” 22 years ago not only demonstrated that Arnold Schwarzenegger could deliver a smart lead performance of a character not a robot, but amid all the action and violence was a thinking person’s sci-fi film.
Derived from a classic Philip K. Dick story, the movie toyed with intriguing ideas about how memory informs personality.
The new remake has been retooled as a two-hour chase movie.
However, this chase is much better than the collective shrug most critics have greeted the film with might suggest. Not only do human figures get blended into a fast-moving digital world, but the chase makes you understand the infrastructure, transportation systems, political hierachy and thought control of a future dystopia.
No, the new “Total Recall” bears no real comparison to the vastly superior film by Paul Verhoeven, then at the height of his cinematic skills. But if you remember to have a good time, as a nurse at ReKall admonishes the movie’s hero, you just might.
Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) ventures into the ReKall emporium, designed to look like an Asiatic brothel, to embed pleasant memories into his overtaxed brain. Despite a great looking, loving wife (Kate Beckinsale) and an okay though non-challenging factory job assembling synthetic police for the ruling class, he is dissatisfied with his life.
Little wonder — it’s not his life.
As he’s about to undergo the ReKall treatment, the drugging system detects that his mind has already been supplied with false memories. Which possibly means his wife is not his wife and his real job might just be that of a highly skilled intelligence op.
Soon enough his wife is trying to kill him — not an easy thing to do it turns out — and all the forces of the evil rulers lead by Chancellor Cohaagen (“Breaking Bad’s” Bryan Cranston) are relentlessly pursuing him. His challenge is to get to a resistance leader (Bill Nighy) to deliver a code locked up within that confused brain of his.
The script by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback throws out the planet Mars angle from the original film. This story instead takes place on a torn and bedraggled Mother Earth.
Indeed the non-stop chase shows off the only two patches of earth unpolluted by chemical warfare that ravaged the planet at the end of the 21st century. One is the elitist United Federation of Britain. This features vehicles on the ground, hover cars in the air and elevators that wiz in many directions on a grid not completely dissimilar to those in Roald Dahl’s children’s novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
There’s even a cool though impossible elevator that goes through the center of the earth to reach The Colony down under.
As you admire The Colony’s streets crowded with its mixed population, dark passageways and constant rain, you might have Total Recall from another movie, not Verhoeven’s, however, but Ridley Scott’s now iconic “Blade Runner.” Patrick Tatopoulos’ production design completely replicates the dark, rainy, polluted megalopolis of that movie.
Video billboards are everywhere in a city that dwells in permanent twilight. One nice touch is water canals that bustle with poorly constructed boats and floating devices.
It looks like there haven’t been too many improvements on basic machine guns and pistols. One amusing thing, assuming the minds behind this movie meant it that way, is that the final weapon a villain uses against Douglas is a simple knife.
Farrell does a fair job of working some characterization into the chase — or at least as much as any actor can playing a man confused about his own identity and memories. Jessica Biel, as a rebel who may be Douglas’ actual girlfriend, is a a good match for the athletic Beckinsale in their cat fights and skirmishes.
Director Len Wiseman keeps things jumping from start to finish without any sense of contrivance. Harry Gregson-Williams’ overactive score acts as an adrenaline pump, urging the characters to run faster and shoot quicker.
The stunt work is excellent even if at times everyone seems to be a comic book superhero no one can destroy. Paul Cameron’s cinematography catches all the nifty details in the production design while Christian Wagner’s editing sets the dizzying pace.
Just remember to have a good time.
Opens: Aug. 3, 2012 (Columbia Pictures)
Production company: Original Film
Cast: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, John Cho, Bill Nighy
Director: Len Wiseman
Screenwriters: Kurt Wimmer, Mark Bomback
Screenstory by: Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, Jon Povill, Kurt Wimmer
Based on a short story by: Philip K. Dick
Producers: Neal H. Moritz,Toby Jaffe
Executive producers: Ric Kidney, Len Wiseman
Director of photography: Paul Cameron
Production designer: Patrick Tatopoulos
Music: Harry Gregson-Williams
Costume designer: Sanja Milkovic Hays
Editor: Christian Wagner
PG-13 rating, 118 minutes