Total Recall

Less than memorable— Visual feast, intellectual famine in remake

Aug 3, 2012 at 12:00 am

Total Recall| C-

The 1990 Total Recall, with its parade of space mutants, exploding eyeballs, psychic conjoined twins and tri-breasted hookers, was very far from subtle, but certainly memorable. The remake, even more loosely adapted from a 1966 short story by the ubiquitous Philip K. Dick, is a visual feast and an intellectual famine, a banquet of empty calories that is as forgettable as any major action film in recent memory.

The first film was made by gonzo Dutch madman Paul Verhoeven, who never missed an opportunity to smash subtlety with a sledgehammer; he is followed by Len Wiseman, auteur of the latex-coated Vampire vs. Werewolf CGI bullet ballet Underworld series, and also not a man known for nuance. Yet Wiseman get less mileage out of the saga of Doug Quaid, the working stiff who gets memory implants of a past life as a dangerous secret agent, only to discover he really may be that agent. As he struggles to understand what's happening, Doug, suddenly endowed with action-hero prowess, plows through wave after wave of mostly robotic shock troops, flying machine parts replacing the copious blood splatter of Verhoeven

The remake jettisons the Mars setting in favor of a post-chemical-war Earth where living space is at a premium, and the two inhabitable nations (roughly the U.K and Australia) are feuding for resources and control. The overcrowded cityscapes are an impressive sight at first, until it becomes obvious that the look is really just a mash-up of more famous films, including Minority Report, Blade Runner and I-Robot. There are some cool sci-fi touches: a gun that shoots electrified cables, phones implanted in wrists and, best of all, a commuter train tunnel that runs through the earth's core, operating like a massive Demon Drop ride. Though you have to wonder: If these societies can handle a public works project this huge, why not just work on cleaning up the toxic waste?

Colin Farrell is the blandest of leading men; a credible actor, but charisma-deficient — no matter how many times the studios tell us he's a star. Even if he's a better fit as a paranoid average guy, he's working in the hulking shadow of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who made up for a lack of chops with raw power and iconic screen presence.

The original also offered a stark contrast between the leading ladies, the icy blond Valkyrie in Sharon Stone, and the decidedly earthier Rachel Ticontin (remember her? No, of course not). Here the gals battling over Quaid's soul are Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel, too-perfect beauties who seem like flipsides of the same shiny coin. Beckinsale (Wiseman's off-screen girlfriend) at least is having fun as the loving wife turned deadly villain, though everyone else remains joylessly focused.

The major difference between past and present is that the go-for-broke, muscular absurdity of '80s action flicks has been replaced by sleekly efficient, computer-controlled competence. There are winks to the previous version's highlights, but the old humor, invention and risk have been replaced with slick "bullet-time" effects trickery. Forget quasi-fascist governments — the real tyranny is mediocrity.