The almost non-stop chase of the new “Total Recall” isn’t enough, by itself, to make one forget the earlier take on this Philip K. Dick story back in the last century. And for all the effects, the action and the showcase performance provided for his wife, Kate Beckinsale, “Underworld” Spandex salesman Len Wiseman never lets us forget that he’s no Paul Verhoeven, who directed the original film.
Verhoeven (“Basic Instinct”) brought a demented, visceral and sexual energy to a high-minded sci-fi B movie saddled with the Teutonic bore, Arnie Schwarzenegger, as his star. His not-entirely-forgettable “Recall” is remembered for images, jokes and jolts in between the effects. Wiseman doesn’t have Verhoeven’s kinkiness, his wicked wit, his originality.
But he does have Beckinsale, whose years of vampire pictures have taught her how to lean into the camera, how to keep her mom of hair tousled over one scowling eye, just the right level of sneer to slip into her open-mouthed hyper-sexual pout. She, of course, is the villain, the adoring wife Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) thinks he’s been waking up to these past seven years.
This is, however, 100 years in the future. Memories can be invented, introduced, changed, bought and sold.
“We can remember it for you wholesale,” was the title of the story this is based on. And the folks at Total Rekall are all about tinkering with your memory, your reality.
“Tell us your fantasy, we’ll give you the memory,” Rekall guru Mac (John Cho) purrs. “What is life but our brain’s perception of it?”
Exactly. It’s a measure of this movie’s mediocrity that the many credited screenwriters and the director cannot make more of that possibility. We never are made to doubt Doug’s reality, any more than he does.
“If I’m not me, then who the hell am I?”
Doug has been waking up with Kate Beckinsale, but dreaming of Jessica Biel. And it turns out, those dreams are his real past — an agent mixed up with a rebellion, working for the rebel leader (Bill Nighy) or perhaps for the fearless leader, played by generic villain Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad.”
Humanity has barely survived a chemical world war, and we’re living in two enclaves — in the United Federation of Britain, and The Colony (Australia). And we’re living in layers, stacked up from far below the ground, where late model Mini Coopers and Fiats remain, to way up in the sky, where futuristic hover-cars and rotor-less helicopters roam.
And keeping the peace — “Synthetic Federal Police,” who take their fashion cues from the Storm Troopers of “Star Wars.”
In this future, paper money still exists (check out the face on the bills), guns still using bullets and darned if those bullets still don’t miss when the hero and his re-discovered heroine are dodging them.
It’s a “Blade Runner” world of dark and rain, a “Fifth Element” future of stacked up “levels” of humanity and traffic. No doubt about it, there’s a lot to take in during the endless chase that takes Doug through skylights, awnings, subway cars and this vast shuttle that shoots people through the center of the Earth from Britain to Australia. So, kudos where they’re due — to production designer Patrick Tatopolous.
But it adds nothing to this “Recall,” which is not quite totally different from the last “Recall,” to note that the last “Recall” wasn’t all that. This one isn’t, either.
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity, and language
Cast: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, John Cho, Bokeem Woodbine, Bill Nighy
Credits: Directed by Len Wiseman, scripted by Kurrt Wimmer and Mark Bomback, based ona Phi.ip K. Dick story. A Columbia Pictures release.
Running time: 1:56