As is the case with most remakes of appealing originals, the first question one asks about “Total Recall” is “Why?” Those old enough to, um, recall the 1990’s “Recall” will call to mind Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone in the lead roles of Paul Verhoeven’s re-imagining of Phillip Dick’s 1966 short story, “We Can Remember That for You Wholesale.” On the other hand, the target demographic—twentysomething males —will likely come to regard this Original Pictures production (no, I’m not making this up) as, well, the original.
More’s the pity, because the current number, now available on DVD, is a long drop-off from #1 as a piece of moviemaking. It lacks the wit and coherence of its two decades’ predecessor, which it occasionally alludes to but rarely manages to equal. It borrows much of its visual appeal from Ridley Scott’s sci-fi noir classic “Blade Runner,” here considerably enhanced by the very latest computer graphics wizardry. Parts of it are fun to watch, if not particularly absorbing.
Aside from the hodge-podge of a screenplay, the frantic editing keeps us as confused as the central figure. Robo-cop assembly-line worker Doug Quaid (Colin Ferrell) wakes up from a dream in which he is an action hero. His gorgeous wife (Kate Beckinsale) worries about these recurrent dreams, but dismisses them as “all in his head.” (Get it?) Thing is, Doug wants to get out of his humdrum existence for, uh, real, so he hooks up with “Rekall,” a head shop of a different sort. (You might recall that Ahnuld just wanted to go to Mars.) They promise to give him a better “life” through chemicals injected into him: he opts for the secret agent—make that a double agent—package.
But something apparently goes awry, as guys in Star Wars combat gear burst in and start shooting the place up. Doug dispatches them all, somewhat to his own amazement. Escaping the place in the first of the movie’s interminable chases, Doug returns home to the arms of his loving wife—who tries to kill him. Eventually, Doug meets another rebel (played by Jessica Biel) who gets it through his skull that he really is a secret (double) agent whose memory has been replaced so that he can infiltrate the Resistance, who are trying to bring down the repressive regime of Cohagen (Bryan Cranston).
See, it’s 2084, the world has been all but destroyed by chemical warfare, and there are only two livable pockets of humanity left: the United Federation of Britain and The Colony. The former looks like the former Great Britain plus a slice of Western Europe. The latter, formerly known as Australia, is connected by The Fall, a sort of super Underground that passes through the earth’s core, making the commute in 17 minutes. There’s more than a little animosity between the two: the colonial have-nots’ dreary existence and environs look to be about a century behind the slick interiors and hover-craft busy streets of the Northern Hemisphere.
In a more thoughtful movie, one less preoccupied with spectacle, some historical/allegorical statement might have arisen from this set-up. There are lots of gimmicks and gadgets (like a literally hand-held mobile phone) to distract us from the movie’s essential emptiness. I found myself curiously disaffected by all the frantic goings on, neither caring about these fake characters nor the contorted plot they are caught up in.
“Total Recall” is rated “PG-13” for sci-fi violence and language. Ironically, under-13-year-olds, schooled on video games, might be able to follow the frenetic chases and shoot ‘em ups better than this old crock can. But I don’t recommend it for them, either, parental guidance or not.