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. 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 “Recall” is remembered for images, jokes and jolts in between the effects. Wiseman doesn’t have Verhoeven’s (limited) inventiveness or 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 adoring wife Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) thinks he’s been waking up to the past seven years. And she’s terrific.
We’re 100 years in the future. Memories can be invented, introduced, changed, bought and sold.
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“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.
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 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 — “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 re-discovered heroine are dodging them. Not a lot of room for acting in 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 a 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.