There was never any question that Len Wiseman’s take on Philip K Dick’s short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale would be reserved in comparison to Paul Verhoeven’s outlandish Nineties effort. Gone are Schwarzenegger’s pithy one-liners, his trip to Mars, exaggerated hyper-violence and any sense of humour the story once had.
For better or worse, a semblance of the original Total Recall’s plot remains intact, buried beneath a convoluted preface involving a ravaged Earth split into two territories – the United Federation of Britain (UFB) and the Colony (formerly Australia) – where the remnants of humanity survive. Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) resides on the latter, in a district with a distinctly Asian flavour. Finding himself disillusioned by his 9-5 grind, he pays a visit to Rekall – a sleazy back-alley business (with an apparent massive marketing budget, as ads appear just about everywhere across the city) that implants fake memories into paying customers. However, the procedure is botched when it turns out Quaid has existing memories of being a spy, and soon finds himself on the run from the malicious Chancellor Vilos Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston). Has Quaid lived some clandestine existence he is unaware of, or is it all part of Rekall’s elaborate illusion?
Unfortunately, the latter conundrum is half-baked. Farrell is unquestionably an upgrade from Schwarzenegger in the acting stakes, but somehow finds himself with less to do here, sprinting from one chase scene to the next looking permanently perturbed. It’s a facile presence in a film focused on the immediate ephemeral thrill.
Wiseman’s direction is slick but needlessly noisy, overtly influenced by hyperactive videogame action that lends a scattershot approach to the film’s humdrum spectacle. Fight choreography is immediate and vigorous, but larger-scale sequences feel disconnected, squandered by Attack Of The Clones-level CG foolery – non-highlights include a deathroom of cube elevators and a flying car chase where magnets save the day.
The desolate remains of Earth yields some surprisingly arresting visuals, but it’s derivative and ultimately lacks both the personality and inventiveness of Verhoeven’s barmy vision. Wiseman’s eye seems concerned primarily with his wife, Kate Beckinsale, enraptured by her pouting and simmering glares. Her interpretation of Lori is an amalgamation of Sharon Stone’s wife-cum-deadly assassin and Ironside’s dogged Richter, but she lacks the motivation of either. Likewise, the ever-watchable Cranston is underused as a stock villain as ropey as his ill-fitting wig, and spends the majority of his screen time getting wailed on by Farrell in the film’s awkward climax.
As Farrell, Beckinsale and Jessica Biel find themselves aimlessly herded from one explosive set piece to the next, it’s hard to imagine any actor succeeding within this vacuous mess of summer spectacle. Any time the plot touches upon any of the interesting ideas that Dick proposed, it brushes them aside with erroneous indifference.
Total Recall is superficial to say the least; attractive to a degree, but lacking depth and coherence to the point of redundancy. Wiseman has been kind enough to crib all the pivotal beats of Verhoeven’s film, but purged the world of the personality, wit and detail that made it such a beloved sci-fi story to begin with. Suffice to say, you’re best off forgetting this sorry mess ever happened.