Movie Review: Total Recall

By Stephen Rebello

What happens to a remake when you remove the humor, add poor direction and mix it up with a heavy hand?

Director: Len Wiseman

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Studio: Original Film

We hate it when movies write their own reviews. At least a dozen times in the new sci-adventure Total Recall, characters in tight spots can’t seem to come up with anything better than to growl, “Shit!” Exactly. This $200-million Len Wiseman-directed, Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback-scripted remake of the Paul Verhoeven-directed 1990 sci-fi hit is gilt-lined crap — humorless, glossy, bland as milk, generic and instantly forgettable. 

The thing is set in a filthy, overcrowded late 21st century world decimated by chemical warfare. That leaves 98-percenter working stiffs like brooding, sinewy Colin Farrell commuting to the earth’s core to toil in soul-numbing assembly line factory jobs. But our hero longs for a bigger life, something adventurous, heroic and sexy, and, although apparently happily married to Kate Beckinsale, has recurrent dream/nightmares involving a mystery woman (Jessica Biel). It turns out that neither the characters played by Farrell nor Beckinsale (the real-life Mrs. Len Wiseman) are what they appear to be, and between various action set pieces that have all the resonance of a computer game, they are variously helped and hindered by ruthless governmental baddies like Bryan Cranston and noble revolutionary leaders like Bill Nighy: vivid, resourceful actors who barely register here. Wiseman’s anonymous, just-keep-it-moving direction squashes the movie’s intriguing premise, let alone the existential underpinnings of the original Philip K. Dick short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale that inspired both movies.

If Wiseman’s direction weren’t enough to kill the thing off, the job gets finished by the film’s spectacular but derivative production design (concepts torn from the Metropolis and Blade Runner playbooks) and a screenplay that gives the characters absolutely zero emotional pull despite jaunty, campy work from Beckinsale. As for Colin Farrell — who hasn’t been able to catch a break in movies since his terrific work in In Bruges — he’s earnest, sad-eyed and buff but so colorless that he almost makes one nostalgic for Ah-nuld. Almost. Total recall? We’ve already forgotten it.


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