Starring: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bill Nighy
Rated: PG-13, for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity, and language
Runtime: 2 hours, 1 minute
Bottom line: Busy, boring, derivative action flick
“Total Recall” is a tiresome movie.
Perhaps that’s because the summer movie season is waning and we’ve grown tired of loud action that isn’t grounded in a worthwhile story. Or perhaps the memories of the 1990 movie of which this is a remake are still too fresh. Or perhaps we’re just tired of remakes altogether.
But despite outstanding visuals and solid performances, “Total Recall” isn’t engaging or suspenseful.
It’s also the latest Philip K. Dick adaptation (“We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”) to come nowhere near to the brilliance of its source material. In fact, this version of “Total Recall” has even less to do with Dick’s story than the original movie.
Screenwriters Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback chucked the Mars-related elements and set the story in a future in which most of Earth has been made inhabitable by chemical warfare. Borrowing heavily from the classic “Metropolis,” they present us with a dual-class society.
The former UK is now where the upper class live in posh luxury, while Australia has become The Colony, where manual laborers live a bleak, oppressive existence. Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) is the leader of the free world, but there is a growing resistance in The Colony, led by Mathias (Bill Nighy).
Each day, workers travel from one hemisphere of Earth to the other via a massive transport called The Fall, which goes straight through the Earth’s core.
Obviously, there isn’t much science in this science fiction.
Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is a Colony worker who is tired of his life, despite having an apparently happy marriage with Lori (Kate Beckinsale). He decides to have some exciting memories implanted in his mind by a seedy little business called Rekall.
He chooses a memory of being a spy, except when the recall technician (John Cho) begins the procedure, he discovers Douglas already has those sorts of memories.
Cohaagen’s agents burst through the door and attempt to arrest Douglas as if he really is a wanted spy. Douglas then discovers Lori is actually an undercover agent assigned by Cohaagen to monitor him.
Douglas goes on the run, getting help from a revolutionary named Melina (Jessica Biel), with whom he has a history he can’t remember. He becomes mixed up in Mathias’ plot to overthrow Cohaagen’s government, because he used to be a double agent.
Douglas can’t remember this, either, and we’re not sure whether his true loyalty lies with Cohaagen or Mathias.
Meanwhile, the movie wants us to constantly wonder whether the action is real or is only happening in Douglas’ head. Is this the fantasy he paid for, or is all this actually happening?
By the midway point, I didn’t care which it was. I didn’t think I could be so bored by a movie so full of action and twists.
“Total Recall” looks great. Much of the scenery and Cohaagen’s army of robots are computer-generated, and it is all rendered with striking detail and precision, especially The Colony, which looks like “Slumdog Millionaire” meets “Blade Runner.”
Yet the movie just isn’t engaging beyond the most superficial of levels. The story doesn’t slow down long enough to develop the characters, and the class warfare is a forced, failed attempt to make it all relevant.
So as the movie spires and gyres through a seemingly endless series of twists and turns of the screw, the experience makes us weary rather than riveted.
We’re also supposed to believe things like Cohaagen, the most powerful politician in the world, going into the field and fighting Douglas in hand to hand combat.
Critics are bound to make all manner of déjà vu puns about this movie, because we have definitely seen all of this before — and not just in the 1990 movie. It borrows heavily from “The Bourne Identity,” “Minority Report” and many other, better movies.
So if you see “Total Recall” and feel like you’ve been there before.
Yes. Yes, you have.
Jeff Marker teaches film and literature at Gainesville State College. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.