The remake of "Total Recall" has done something pretty impressive — made critics nostalgic for Arnold Schwarzenegger.
As an actor, the former California governor rarely received much in the way of rave reviews, but most of America's top critics said that the original version of Philip K. Dick's science fiction thriller, which starred Schwarzenegger, had an over-the-top flair that the current incarnation lacks.
With a lowly 31 percent rotten score on critics aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the new film has collected more pans than praise. Twenty years later, with a heap of "Recall" knock-offs like David Fincher's "The Game" still fresh in the mind, the film is getting knocked around for being a tired retread of overly familiar themes.
"Total Recall" stars a slim-waisted Colin Farrell, trying his best to replace Ahnuld's brawny shoulders, along with Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale. Len Wiseman (“Underworld”) takes over the directing chores from Paul Verhoeven (“Showgirls”) for this go-round. It opened in theaters on Friday.
In TheWrap, Leah Rozen credited Farrell with adding a "mischievous twinkle" to his performance, but found the rest of the film generic and lazy.
"Five minutes after walking out of this 'Total Recall,' you’ll be hard-pressed to recall a moment of it," Rozen writes.
Christopher Orr, writing in the Atlantic, agreed that the movie essentially boils down to one long chase sequence with none of the wit of Dick's original short story.
"I was no particular fan of the first Total Recall, but I confess that this flat, by-the-numbers remake made me a tad nostalgic for its bombastic preposterousness, the high-tech Halloween masks (the movie actually won an Oscar for its special effects) and conjoined telepaths and Considuh daht a divhorce," Orr wrote.
Also finding it difficult to muster any enthusiasm was The New York Times' A.O. Scott, who said that Wiseman had tossed aside a chance at political allegory in favor of explosions and general cinematic bombast. He also faulted the film's manic approach to exposition.
"So much information is thrown at you in such a haphazard fashion that your ability to care dwindles along with your willingness to enjoy any of it," Scott wrote.
The Washington Post's Jen Chaney agreed that the film shouldn't make any ten-best lists, but unlike Orr she found it to be an improvement on Verhoeven's vision. In particular, she cited Farrell's more naturalistic take as a nice contrast with Schwarzenegger's less-than-nuanced interpretation of the lead role.
"As Quaid, Farrell displays an ever-evolving combination of bewilderment, terror and über-confidence as a man with no idea how he learned to handle ammunition, yet capable of firing guns while doing an action-hero gymnastic routine," Chaney writes. "He brings realism to a hyper-real situation, something that eluded Schwarzenegger the first time around."
Also finding more to love than lament in the remake was the Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert, who praised the action sequences, but ultimately said they couldn't match the pleasures of the original.
"Total Recall' is well-crafted, high energy sci-fi," Ebert wrote. "Like all stories inspired by Philip K. Dick, it deals with intriguing ideas. It never touched me emotionally, though, the way the 1990 film did, and strictly speaking, isn't necessary."