★ ★ 1/2
Starring Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsdale, Jessica Biel & Bryan Cranston. Directed by Len Wiseman . Written by Kurt Wimmer & Mark Bomback
When you deal with reboots and remakes, try as you might, you can't help but compare the two. The original Total Recall – Arnie, Mars, Three-Boobs and all, had a surprisingly complex storyline, leaving you to wonder if what you were watching actually transpired, or if it was all implanted by Rekall as advertised. So, does the new Colin Farrell-fronted Total Recall for the dubstep generation create a new universe all its own while still staying true to the forebearer? Um... well, Kate Beckinsdale is in it.
The Philip K. Dick storyline and original film were both based on Mars – which plays no role this go-round. Instead, we're presented with a post-World War 3 Earth, ravaged by chemical warfare. There are only two inhabitable areas, the United Federation of Britain and the Colony (which we know better as Australia). Despite a nebulously mentioned resistance, the citizens of the Colony function primarily as hired labor for the UFB, travelling there through The Fall – a giant tunnel that travels right through the middle of the earth. (Yeah... I know.) Doug Quaid (Farrell) is a colonist traveling daily through The Fall, building security robots (which no doubt will either just take his jerb or rise up Terminator-style). Despite having a way-too-hot-for-his-bum-ass wife (Beckinsdale), life is pretty drab. The combination of his dead-end job and a reoccurring dream involving an escape of some sort with a different woman (Beil), Quaid decides to visit Rekall, a company specializing in implanting false memories. Instead of going with the popular craven sex package, he opts for the secret agent memories, and to the surprise of many (read: none), OMG – HE'S ALREADY A SECRET AGENT. After the first of many shootouts and chases, Quaid quickly hooks up with the girl from his dreams, all the while being chased by his wife, who just so happens to be a secret agent herself... of course.
The action sequences – which take up the brunt of the film – are handled quite well, each offering a good amount of eye candy. Farrell's portrayal of Quaid isn't particularly bad, though as far as action stars go, Farrell lacks the ability to be believable as an unstoppable killing machine. Beckinsdale on the other hand, no doubt due to her extensive vampire movie resume, has this quality in spades. Not only coming off as a credible secret agent, but also practically forcing you to recognize her as the centerpiece of any action sequence she takes part in. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Jessica Beil, who, while also boasting a credible action resume, feels underutilized and underwhelming. As much a shame as that is, it's actually a step up from both Bryan Cranston's Cohagen and Bill Nighy – who are just one hair short of completely wasted in their roles.
Visually, the world of Total Recall is quite interesting, while the UFB appears as an overpopulated sterile version of England, The Colony appears to be an intriguing mixture of Bangkok, Moscow, Blade Runner (unsurprisingly, as it also began as a Philip K. Dick novel) and the video game Mass Effect. It's here that the early action scenes take place, offering the perfect backdrop (unfortunately ceding to the less interesting UFB later in the film). But for all the attention paid to the action sequences and the set pieces, the plot and pacing could have used a little bit more love.
Looking back on the original Total Recall, the level of outlandishness and over-the-top violence meshed together nicely. While toning back on the outright silliness in favor of a more realistic and taut storyline, some of the charm was lost in translation. As far as summer action films go, the high-adrenaline scenes do their part, but the source material and actors involved could have come together to form a more memorable experience, to which only Beckinsdale fulfilled her end of the bargain. (Oh, and the girl with three boobs, she came through in a pinch also.)