For a movie about the mind, Total Recall is in fact quite dumb and simplistic. To be fair, though, the film is about questioning reality (well, it tries to be about questioning reality), so when taking in the many unbelievable parts of the movie, just chalk it up to being purposefully unbelievable.
If you can get passed the never-ending need for most bad guys to have to explain their thoughts before they make a kill shot, and the ineptitude of all the other bad guys (even if they are robotic), then there is no reason not to enjoy the explosive and very gorgeous Total Recall.
The reboot of a Paul Verhoeven’s fun and goofy futuristic 1990 Schwarzenegger vehicle is set at the end of the 21st century, in a world where humans have used up all but two land masses—an western European republic known as the Federation of Great Britain, and the Australian continent dubbed The Colony—and a shuttle connects both areas by going through the Earth’s core.
In this vision of the future, where slums are infused with technology, and despite overpopulation, an assembly worker has an apartment that would make a lot of Torontonian envious, we’ve also done away with blondes and any unattractive people, as a cast headed by Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, and Jessica Biel would suggest.
We also have animatronic soldiers, hand-implanted cell phones, and deadly elevators, but that doesn’t mean people are necessarily smarter. It seems that while spending time creating specialized weapons that shoot electric snares or tiny cameras, no one in the future took the time to devise bullets that actually hit a moving target.
Farrell is the aforementioned worker Douglas Quaid, married to Beckinsale’s Lori and residing in the colony, but he is soon to become the object all those bullets are trying to hit. Mired in the mundane, despite having a nice apartment, great looking wife, and a steady job (the future seems brighter than the present somehow), and plagued by a recurring dream of action, adventure, and the lovely Ms. Biel—what a terrible life he’s leading—Quaid longs for more.
Against the wishes of his wife and friend, he visits Rekall, a company that will implant into your memories dreams and fantasies, making them as real as real can be. Things go wrong (or right) and Quaid doesn’t know what is real and what is not.
Sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick’s short story is the basis for Recall, but director Len Wiseman here cares little for intrigue or nuance. It is never as personal and intense as the Bourne movies, nor as staggering as The Matrix, and not nearly as startling or novel as the original Total Recall. It is a straight-forward summer action movie that uses a futuristic setting to offer some cool images and fun action sequences, including one very entertaining chase across the biggest and most dangerous elevator shaft ever (which may sadly trump the ending).
There is plenty of recall on the side of the audience, however. There is a James Bond allusion, some dialogue reminiscent of Neo and Morpheus, and plenty of imagery evoking Star Wars, Minority Report, and the many movies where Kate Beckinsale wears tight clothes and incessantly fights, making the film great fodder for Mystery Science Theatre.
It is helped quite a bit though by a cast that is smart enough to know just how serious they need to be (and not to be) to make the film enjoyable. Sure, Kate Beckinsale has spout some ridiculous lines, but her work in the Underworld seems to have made her quite good at this. Bryan Cranston is the world leader, controlling and silly (you just want him to scream, “I am the danger!”) And yes, Douglas can never seem to wrap his head around the fact that something weird is going on.
Yet while he doesn’t know what is happening, we surely do. There is nothing surprising, but I’m not sure you’d want it any other way. Attractive and accented stars, a few quality set pieces, and the return of the three-breasted prostitute make for a decent flick, one that, for better or worse, you are sure to soon forget.