The future ain’t what it used to be.
That holds doubly true for this generic, cut-and-paste remake of 1990's “Total Recall," a sci-fi action thriller based on “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” a short story by Phillip K. Dick.
The first “Total Recall,” an R-rated, rowdy romp starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and directed with his usual over-the-top enthusiasm by Paul Verhoeven (“Showgirls”), was partly set on Mars.
The new movie, directed by Len Wiseman (“Underworld”), is decidedly earth-tethered in every way. The closest we get to the Red Planet here is a brief joking spoken reference to it.
The latest “Total Recall” is set in a dystopian future in which the only inhabitable parts of Earth are the United Federation of Britain (which includes much of Europe) and its subjugated outpost, the Colony (Australia). The movie’s hero, Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), a factory worker, lives in the Colony and commutes daily at high speed halfway round the world to the UFB for his job.
This quotidian routine is upended when Quaid inadvertently discovers that he has been living a lie. His memory has been erased and his identity replaced. So who is he really? While he tries to find out the answer, he’s on the run from sinister and powerful figures who seem to want him either captured or dead.
To further complicated matters, Quaid is also caught betwixt and between two women, his new, fake-life wife (Kate Beckinsale) and a paramour from his past (Jessica Biel), both of whom turn out to possess advanced skills in weapon handling and martial arts.
Right from the get go in this new, PG-13-rated “Total Recall,” there’s an overload of running, jumping and fighting (with both guns and fists). Eventually, there’s also an extended chase scene involving hover cars that zip around on elevated highways built high up above a city’s surface.
The hover car sequence, along with various other elements in the film, will remind viewers of 2002's much superior “Minority Report," which was also based on a short story by Dick (and in which also Farrell appeared). This new “Total Recall” also suffers by comparison to another Dick-derived classic, 1982's “Blade Runner," especially in scenes set in the Colony, the multi-cultural, throbbing, neon and concrete, urban cesspool where Quaid lives.
As he walks around its crowded, dangerous streets, you keep expecting him to bump into Harrison Ford.
Both of those earlier movies featured distinctive leading characters and involving stories. Not so this “Total Recall,” which rushes pell-mell from one action sequence to the next, with a few paltry attempts at humor and coherent dialogue tossed in between as minor window dressing. It is nothing more than regurgitated futuristic action claptrap.
Farrell shows momentary flashes of the potent combination of danger and mischievous twinkle that once seemed to indicate he had a future as a major movie star. Sadly, though, he is mostly asked merely to grunt and grimace as he sustains yet another bump or bruise while fighting or fleeing the bad guys.
The best way to tell the two leading ladies apart is that Beckinsale has long straight hair and switches between an American and an English accent while Biel sports a ponytail. While both get plenty of chances here to burnish their bona fides as action pin-up babes, it is unlikely the scope of their roles will cause Meryl Streep to lose any sleep.
Five minutes after walking out of this “Total Recall,” you’ll be hard-pressed to recall a moment of it.