Inspired by a science fiction short story (“We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick) and remaking the 1990 film version of the same name, Sony’s Total Recall isn’t as bad as I’d expected. Marred by weak characters and strengthened by solid romantic leading performances by Colin Farrell (Alexander) and particularly Jessica Biel (The Illusionist), it’s essentially an action thriller with some decent pause points and amusing sci-fi tie-ins.
For those who have seen the original movie, an involving thriller climaxing on Mars, don’t expect Martians in this futuristic version and the role of the memory company is downplayed and replaced by the federal government as the arch-villain, complete with government stormtroopers, a chancellor and a depiction of Barack Obama on currency. A Tea Party-ish resistance has formed led by Bill Nighy (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel). There’s been some type of global catastrophe and all that’s left is a British dictatorship that resembles the perpetually wet multiculturalist city-state of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner with government thug-bots and a colony of slaves Down Under. Farrell’s factory worker, Douglas Quaid, visits the memory-creating company after he’s passed up for a promotion and suddenly he’s propelled into a world in which he may be a double spy for the rebellion and the regime, which has as much regard for people of ability as our current president.
This brings out the worst in Quaid’s wife, played by overwrought Kate Beckinsale (Contraband), who takes the lead role as villain here and nearly ruins the movie with another overdone performance, stomping about and trying too hard to seem menacing. She kicks, fires and defies physics in all sorts of implausible fight scenes and gets some of the most laughable lines. In one showdown scene, her hair wildly flies around like she belongs in the X-Men movies. Biel’s character and performance fares better – it’s the best in the movie – but the script doesn’t give either of them much to do other than smack each other down. Despite flirting with a sober Gattaca-like moment in which Farrell’s character, surrounded by art and resting at last, plays Beethoven on piano, the leading man doesn’t have much to work with either. How does he know what he does know? His actions always seem to be activated by instinct, not volition, though he does keep things moving along. Total Recall, in spite of its drawbacks, overbearing score and video game-like limitations, makes a decent matinee if you’re into this type of film.