It has been 24 hours since I saw the remake of Total Recall and I can’t recall a bloody thing apart from Kate Beckinsale staring malevolently through her hair at Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel sensibly leaping off a 500-foot-high ledge and landing on a moving elevator. That happens approximately 137 times: Kate shows up, Colin jumps, Kate jumps after him, and 5 million dollars' worth of CGI later, Colin gets away. Then they do it again. Before Kate turns into a lethal combination of the Terminator and Catwoman, Colin is under the impression she’s his wife — and she might well be. This whole series of chases, bloody shoot-outs, and neck-breakings might turn out to be the fantasy of a mild-mannered factory drone getting a virtual vacation at Rekall, a company that specializes in creating new memories. Certainly something seems off about this particular reality. Didn’t Colin used to have a thick Teutonic accent and great big giant pecs?
Alas, that was 1990, the director Paul Verhoeven. There isn’t anything in this Total Recall to match the immortal Arnold Schwarzenegger send-offs, “See you at the pah-ty” and everyone’s favorite alimony killer, “Consider this a divorce” — let alone the head-scrambling notions of Philip K. Dick, on whose story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” both Totall Recalls are based. The old Recall didn’t have too much Dick, either — apart from a single bead of sweat on which the whole shebang turns — but it was, for the most part, a cheeky, bone-crunchingly good time, with Verhoeven’s love/hate relationship with totalitarianism (bad for society, good for sci-fi blockbusters) at full froth and not entirely dissimilar from Dick’s. (Things did take a turn for the stupid on Mars, where a single window crack in the arrival lounge could wipe out half the population.)
This incarnation by Underworld and Live Free or Die Hard director Len Wiseman is just noise — aural and visual. The sets look like Blade Runner’s Japantown dystopia spread out and cluttered up, the moving platforms between levels evoking the old Donkey Kong game minus, alas, the giant gorillas. Farrell’s true love might or might not be Jessica Biel, whose hair looks sufficiently like Beckinsale’s to cause confusion in some of the many shots in which they run and jump off platforms. One key change from Verhoeven’s Recall is how Farrell and Biel’s characters came together, and it removes the one fascinating psychological wrinkle in an otherwise boringly straight melodrama.
Funniest sight gag: The prostitute with three pert breasts, although it continues to nag at me why the MPAA, which gives “R” ratings to movies with two naked boobs, gave this one a “PG-13.” (Eleven-year-old mazophiliacs should seize the moment.) Scariest sight gag: Bryan Cranston’s roadkill hairpiece, the giveaway that his president is pure evil. Playing parts this pathetic for big bucks is my idea of how an actor breaks bad.