The new Total Recall is a streamlined, conceptual remake of the science fiction Schwarzenegger classic that contains nods to the original but is trying so hard to be its own beast that it falls prey to the Philip K. Dick movie treatment, that is a film based on an intriguing concept that keeps doing its best to make us forget about that concept by piling on piles of flash and action. It’s beyond me why this has happened to so many adaptations of PKD’s work (Which include Minority Report, Screamers, Paycheck, and Next) with Blade Runner apparently the only survivor from the Hollywood hit machine.
This new “Recall” certainly takes the most of it’s aesthetic design choices from the latter, everywhere holograms of Japanese script float in the garish gloom, as do Japanese style umbrellas that seem to be inexplicably popular considering they are made out of paper and probably wouldn’t stand up to much weather. The buildings of the future are collections of bulky LEGO bricks that cover the landscape as though a toddler became bored with this dim world he was creating and left them out while he went to play out in the sun.
Perhaps it’s because it’s mostly green screen, but this wannabe cyberpunk future feels generic instead of prophetic, and our trip through it as we follow average Joe assembly worker turned double (Triple? Quadruple?) Agent Douglas Quaid, (Colin Farrell, unable to muster an emotion beyond a kind of bewildered persistence, which has to be the material, given how riveting he managed to be when he was all alone in a phone booth with a sniper scope trained on him) is all just pretty background in the face of the questions such a future would no doubt elicit from the audience (Why are Britain and Australia the only habitable places in the world? What sort of government allows the deployment of both human and robot security forces? Will Apple really go the full route and offer it’s future products surgically inserted in our hands?)
After a bored Quaid ventures into the local memory implanting clinic “Rekall” (Or is it “Recall”?) and realizes he’s not the person he’s thought he was, his Police Officer wife Lorie (Kate Beckinsale, performing some pretty fantastic fighting techniques, but providing no real emotional investment and forced by the PG-13 rating into yelling “Shit!” repeatedly) tries to kill him and later pursues him just as he makes contact with Rebel member Melina (Jessica Biel, even lower key, and just not projecting any convincing feelings towards Quaid despite their apparent history) working to halt the plans of Senetor Cohaagen (Bryan Crantson of tv’s Beaking Bad, playing such a cartoonishly maniacal dictator he seems like the kind of guy Walter White would glare at with disdain and strangle with a bike lock) Together they run pell-mell through this grungy future in search of a resistance leader (Bill Nighy, somberly providing his cameo as though he was just told his dog was run over by a truck), while Quaid tries to figure out who’s side he’s really on and whether the whole thing is just him living the scenario he went to Rekall to have implanted.
Whenever the film stops sprinting and considers questions about identity and the subjective nature of reality, it seems far more involving then when Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel are engaged in a paint dry-ingly dull catfight. Had it stuck with these both the audience and Farrell might have been able to come up with some convincing reason for why we should care about Quaid’s identity and why he might have desired something more exciting then his boring life. As it stands, the film misses out on a key aspect of science fiction when it chooses to sideline how the protagonist reacts to the possibility of this intriguing technology, and all that’s left is an entertaining, yet humorless trip through a world that a twelve year old would love to have implanted in their head, but would probably give a headache to the hardcore science fiction fans.