Visually arresting and at times delivering the biggest thrills of the summer, Len Wiseman’s remake of Total Recall hits the ground running and barely stops to catch its breath, which in the end winds up being a bit of a detriment for the big-budget actioner.
Similar to the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger version, this redo uses only the basic premise of Philip K. Dick’s short story We Can Remember It For you Wholesale as a starting point. What all three incarnations have in common is a central figure who’s dissatisfied with his life and is being plagued by a recurring dream that feels far too real to be ignored.
Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) is a regular Joe who lives in the Colony (Australia), the only continent that’s capable of supporting human life after a catastrophic war. He commutes to London each day (more on that later) to work as a drone in a factory that creates synthetic policemen. The metropolis is the capital of the United Federation of Britain, which consists roughly of Western Europe, while the rest of the world is uninhabitable and is referred to as the No-Zone. Ignoring the advice of his friends, Quaid decides to take a vacation from the mundane and visits Rekall, a service that promises to implant memories so vivid their clients won’t be able to discern between what’s real and what’s been fabricated. Opting for a scenario in which he would be a spy on a covert mission, Quaid’s session goes awry from the start as technicians detect that he already has similar memories in place and that he’s not who he says he is. Quaid himself gets proof of this when he single-handedly wipes out a brigade of cops who’ve been alerted of his presence. Our hero is soon running for his life, trying to elude his surrogate-wife-who-happens-to-be-a-cop, Lori (Kate Beckinsale), find the rebel leader Matthias (Bill Nighy) who he’s somehow connected to and sort out just what resistance fighter Melina (Jessica Biel) means to him.
It comes as no surprise that social issues are far more prevalent this time around than in the precious incarnation. What’s left of the world has been divided into the lowly workers living in the Colony, a dingy overcrowded land of stacked tenements and smog-filed skies, and the privileged and powerful who live in London and who will stop at nothing to keep those who toil for them in their place. This is brilliantly underscored by the film’s central metaphor, The Fall, a massive transit device that transports Quaid and others daily from one side of the planet to another, through the Earth’s core. The inherent peril of this daily commute is something they all must undertake to survive, the risk of which is nothing to Londoners who regard these workers as disposable and replaceable.
While Farrell gets a few scenes in which to ruminate over his existential dilemma, the focal point of the film is the action. Credit Wiseman for choreographing and delivering at least three show-stopping sequences. A Mexican standoff between Quaid, Lori and his buddy Harry (Bokeem Woodbine) who appears to snap him back to reality steadily builds to a satisfyingly tense conclusion while a hover-car chase through the various levels of London never loses steam though it takes up a good 10 minutes of screen time. However, the set piece that takes the cake is a foot chase that takes place on ever-shifting pedways. As platforms and elevators move and shift from under Quaid and Melina’s feet and they barely avoid being decapitated by other sliding compartments, you can’t help but be sucked into the chase and gasp as the characters repeatedly escape certain death.
As fun as the film is, it falters during its third act, vacillating back and forth from one change of alliance where Quaid is concerned to another. Wiseman tacks on one too many chases and far too many explosions before the dust settles. However, the game cast, all of whom are fully invested in this nonsense, are fun to watch. There’s no denying that Wiseman is fully aware of Recall’s identity and purpose. He’s crafted a popcorn movie that’s as exciting as it is disposable.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at email@example.com.