REVIEW: For at least the first half of its 2-hour running time, it’s hard to tell if “Total Recall” works better as a remake of the popular 1990 classic that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger or as a love letter to 1982’s groundbreaking sci-fi masterpiece “Blade Runner.” The fact that both movies are based on the works of legendary author Philip K. Dick only fuels the argument that it succeeds on both counts.
Where the latter is concerned, it will have to serve until director Ridley Scott gets around to making that “Blade Runner” sequel he’s been talking about (while promoting his latest big screen offering, “Prometheus”). The cyberpunk influence of that film is obvious from the very first scene of Len Wiseman’s update of “Total Recall,” which depicts the earth of the late-21st Century -- or rather, what’s left of it -- as bleak, rain-soaked, decaying, over-crowded, overwhelming and full of flying cars that resemble spinners.
Otherwise, the plot is pretty faithful to the original film (which itself was based on Dick’s famous short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”), save for a few changes -- the biggest of which is that the film’s reluctant protagonist never gets his “ass to Mars.” The story is completely earthbound and takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where the only inhabitable spots left on the planet that were not ravaged by warfare lie in two nation-states: The United Federation of Britain (formerly western Europe) and The Colony (formerly Australia).
Factory worker Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) and his beautiful wife (Kate Beckinsale) live in a run-down society that’s controlled by the corrupt Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston). Since he can’t afford to take a real vacation, he opts for the next best thing: a visit to Rekall, a company that implants fantasies into your mind that feel so vivid and real that they become part of your memory.
But when the implant procedure goes horribly wrong, Quaid is forced to go on the run from the police, the government and those he trusted the most. His only hope lies with a woman he remembered from his dreams: a rebel fighter (Jessica Biel) working for the underground resistance. Quaid is forced to make a difficult choice that will determine his real identity and the fate of the free world, but how does he know which choice to make when the line between fantasy and reality has become so blurred?
After directing serviceable action films like 2003’s “Underworld” and 2007’s “Live Free or Die Hard,” Len Wiseman takes on his most ambitious production yet with “Total Recall.” For the most part, he succeeds with a lavishly-produced remake that’s smart, sexy and action-packed with exciting fight scenes and flying car chases. The only problem is that it takes itself a bit too seriously, and some of the plot details in the screenplay (written by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback) aren’t as clear as they were in the original film -- especially during the second half, which gets a bit too convoluted.
Regardless, Colin Farrell does a fine job in filling the very big shoes vacated by Arnold Schwarzenneger, while Jessica Biel gives a strong performance in an otherwise under-written role as the only person he can trust. But without question, “Total Recall” is Kate Beckinsale’s movie. By combining the two characters played by Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside in the original film, Beckinsale -- who is married to director Wiseman -- plays the quintessential bad “guy,” and she’s really good at it. (Hard to believe that this is the same actress who broke through with 1995’s “Cold Comfort Farm.”)
The prospect of implanted fantasies may still be a long way off, so until that day comes, seeing a spectacle like “Total Recall” will serve as the next best thing. This is an action film with a capital “A,” so consider this review as an implant to see a fantasy like this the way it was meant to be seen: at the movies.
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