The almost non-stop chase of the new Total Recall isn't enough, by itself, to make one forget the earlier take on this Philip K. Dick story in the previous century.
And for all the effects, the action and the showcase performance provided for his wife, Kate Beckinsale, Underworld Spandex salesman Len Wiseman never lets us forget that he's no Paul Verhoeven, who directed the original film.
Verhoeven (Basic Instinct) brought a demented, visceral and sexual energy to a high-minded sci-fi "B" movie saddled with the Teutonic bore, Arnie Schwarzenegger, as his star. His not-entirely-forgettable Total Recall is remembered for images, jokes and jolts between the effects. Wiseman doesn't have Verhoeven's (limited) inventiveness, his kinky and wicked wit.
But he does have Beckinsale, whose years of vampire pictures have taught her how to lean into the camera, how to keep her mop of hair tossed over one scowling eye, just the right level of sneer to slip into her open-mouthed hypersexual pout. Here, she's the villain, the seemingly adoring wife of Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell). And she's terrific.
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We're 100 years in the future. Memories can be invented, introduced, changed, bought and sold.
We Can Remember It For You Wholesale was the title of the story this is based on. And the folks at Rekall are all about tinkering with your memory, your reality.
"Tell us your fantasy, we'll give you the memory," a Rekall guru (John Cho) purrs. "What is life but our brain's perception of it?"
Exactly. It's a measure of this movie's mediocrity that the many credited screenwriters and the director cannot make more of that possibility. We never are made to doubt Doug's reality, any more than he does.
"If I'm not me, then who the hell am I?"
Doug has been waking up with Lori (Beckinsale) but dreaming of Melina (Jessica Biel). And it turns out, those dreams are his real past — an agent mixed up with a rebellion, a sexy rebel agent (Biel) working for the rebel leader (Bill Nighy) or perhaps for the fearless leader, played by with generic villainy by Bryan Cranston of TV's Breaking Bad.
Humanity has barely survived a chemical world war, and we're living in two enclaves — Euromerica and New Shanghai. And we're living in layers, stacked up from the surface, where futuristic Mini Coopers and Fiats remain, to way up in the sky, where futuristic hover-cars and rotor-less helicopters roam.
And keeping the peace are "Synthetic Federal Police," who take their fashion cues from the armored storm troopers of Star Wars.
In this future, cellphones are implanted in your hand (neat), paper money still exists (check out the face on the bills), guns still use bullets and darned if those bullets still don't miss when the hero and his rediscovered heroine are dodging them. Not a lot of room for acting between the sprints.
It's a Blade Runner world of dark and rain, a Fifth Element future of stacked up "levels" of humanity and traffic. No doubt about it, there's a lot to take in, visually, during the endless chase that runs Doug through skylights, awnings, crowded streets, subway cars and this vast shuttle that shoots people through the center of the Earth from Britain to Australia. So, kudos where they're due — to production designer Patrick Tatopolous.
But it adds nothing to this Recall, which is not quite totally different from the last Recall — yes, a three-breasted woman shows up; no, we don't travel to Mars — to note that the last Recall wasn't all that. This one isn't either.