It’s always disheartening to see underappreciated actors pick projects that aren’t going to do them any favors. In Total Recall, we see Colin Farrell and Kate Beckinsale pick yet another film that isn’t going to boost their collateral in any way, shape, or form. I’m sure that remaking 1990’s Total Recall, originally starring Arnold Swartzenegger, looked great on paper. This was a very influential film that helped define the distinct landscape of science fiction in the 80s and 90s. And, after considering the profound inspiration that author Philip K. Dick’s work has led the genre to produce, it would seem a safe and rewarding bet. After all, this man’s stories led to the making of the greatest sci-fi film of all time: Blade Runner.
Unfortunately, this offering simply did not work. Overall, this premise differs greatly from the original. It’s 2084 and, in a timely message, Earth now only has two livable land areas. People travel back and forth between The Colony (Australia) and the United Federation of Britain (Great Britain) through an underground elevator that runs through the Earth’s core. Terrorist attacks occur in drones, much of society is poor, and the two “nations” are competing for power: the UFB, led by Chancellor Cohaagen (histrionically played by Bryan Cranston).
Colin Farrell is Douglas Quaid, a factory worker who is bored with his life and has been having nightmares involving a woman (Jessica Biel). After seeing advertisements for Rekall, a company that implants memories of exciting fantasies and adventures of the client’s choosing, Quaid pays them a visit. As Quaid checks in and is being evaluated, he is suddenly accused of being a spy by the machine’s administrator, McClane (a sadly underused John Cho). All of a sudden, police barge in, shooting and fighting ensues and, before you know it, Quaid’s instincts kick in and he has taken down the police and must flee.
Upon returning home, Quaid confides in his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) about what happened and she then reveals herself to be a spy for the UFB and tells him they have only known each other for six weeks. After escaping from Lori, Farrell is picked up my Melina (Jessica Biel), the girl who has been in all of his nightmares. It’s pretty obvious to the audience these two used to be lovebirds, though no chemistry exists between Farrell and Biel. What follows is a story about who is behind the terrorist attacks, who Quaid used to work for, and what secrets he knows about the powerful authorities. The lingering question is always which of Quaid’s memories are real and who can he trust?
What made the original so great is absent here. This is a flat script, with uninteresting and boring dialogue. These characters are never able to come to life and we never become invested in them. We cared about Swartzenegger and Rachel Ticotin and their quest for the truth. The original clearly respected and implemented some phenomenal action sequences, but took time to craft the storyline and follow the dilemmas proposed through to completion. Here, director Len Wiseman (Kate Beckinsale’s husband) only goes for the action sequences. While the first half of the movie impresses on this level, it simply just becomes rote. I will note that visually, the film is stunning. I was in awe of the CGI in terms of set design and the community created here. It was very reminiscent of Blade Runner and when I saw this, I thought I was in for a treat. This quickly faded as the film revealed itself to discard plot and character development.
As I mentioned previously, it’s always disappointing when you see likeable and talented actors run their career into the ground. In Farrell’s defense, I think he has picked some wonderful films that have been largely ignored and underrated. Miami Vice bombed, but it’s a gem that I would put up against Heat any day. Last year’s Fright Night is an example of a fabulous remake that no one saw. He was the definition of magnetism in that film. Sure Pride and Glory and London Boulevard were misfires. But his supporting roles in Horrible Bosses and Crazy Heart showed his depth and range. So let’s not give up on him yet. You can chalk Kate Beckinsale’s career damage up to the stupid projects she picks. Everybody’s Fine, Whiteout, and Click are just a few that come to mind. Granted, her success with the Underworld films has been fun to watch, but I’m surprised she doesn’t pick smarter films.
In the end, Total Recall is sadly another entry you can file under “Bad Remake.” This film is also coming on the end of a summer that offered another huge science fiction disappointment in Prometheus. A genre that is so exciting and innovative shouldn’t be producing such uninteresting and boring sludge. Another important note: The film does succeed in once again proving Jessica Biel’s critics right. Why this woman still has an acting career astounds me. In her 15 years of films, she has managed to make one good film with The Illusionist. One!
So, if your inner nerd is jonesing for some otherworldly adventures, skip the theater. Just dig into your DVD stash and spend the night with Ellen Ripley, Rick Deckard, or a Skywalker.
Total Recall is now playing at Goodrich Savoy 16 and Carmike Beverly Cinemas 18.