Too bad they retained the title of "Total Recall" and ditched every quality that made that 1990 sci-fi smash memorable. Gone is the saber-sharp satire, the irresistibly quippy and quotable dialogue, and the agreeably cheesy, over-amped performances. What remains is a total retread of a popcorn classic made shinier, louder and crushingly dumber.
In a grim, overpopulated future, Colin Farrell plays factory worker Doug Quaid, one of those faceless people who makes things work but never gets his due. After another dispiriting day on the assembly line stamping out robocops (this film positively bristles with allusions to top science-fiction movies) he's ready for a bit of escapism. Traveling through the labyrinthine slums that entrap him before the plot complications do, he visits Rekall Inc., a shady memory-implantation center where customers can experience the delusion of their choice.
Quaid has barely begun his secret-agent fantasy when SWAT troopers burst in and Quaid reacts superspy-style, shooting the police squad full of holes. Now his wife (Kate Beckinsale) is out to kill him and a strangely familiar woman (Jessica Biel) entices him with information about his true identity. Or so it seems. Is Quaid a nobody dreaming of glory, or an undercover agent whose memory is gradually returning?
Farrell's charisma and acting skill are untapped in a routine action role. Beckinsale brings a virulent edge to her one-note character, with Biel providing a serviceable good-girl counterweight. Bryan Cranston, as the chief villain, doesn't seem cunning enough to pull the strings on a globe-spanning conspiracy. The person he keeps sending to eliminate Quaid proves time after time incapable of getting the job done, the sort of detail you'd expect a mastermind to notice.
Paul Verhoeven's brutal, lewd but clever original gave viewers two sources of entertainment. They could puzzle their way through Quaid's existential dilemma or revel in the splattery, knowingly ludicrous violence. Verhoeven was audacious enough to shear off a bad guy's forearms and talented enough to make it work as an outlandish sight gag. Len Wiseman, the guiding light behind the "Underworld" vampires vs. werewolves thrillers, is a proficient action director, nothing more. He delivers dystopian cityscapes as good as any ever seen onscreen, and slickly edited fight-and-flight scenes.
There's plenty to excite the eye, but the mind remains unboggled. It's all visuals and no vision. You won't need Rekall Inc. to erase this movie from your memory, as it will evaporate quickly on its own.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186