Colin Farrell undergoes a sci-fi identity crisis in Total Recall remake

by Mark Burger

In some ways, director Len Wiseman’s version of Total Recall, is more faithful to Phillip K. Dick’s classic sciencefiction story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale than Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 blockbuster. Although buff and brawny in his own right — and undoubtedly to the liking of the ladies in the audience — leading man Colin Farrell is much more a blue-collar everyman than Arnold Schwarzenegger was, although likewise indestructible as it turns out.

Remakes have been pretty good to Farrell, and he to them. His turn last year as the bloodsucking neighbor in Fright Night was inspired (so was the casting, for that matter) and he brings his customary conviction to the character of Doug Quaid here. Prior “bad-boy” behavior notwithstanding, which has certainly earned him more than enough tabloid coverage over the years, he’s always been a solid actor.

Suffering from bad dreams and suppressed memories — although not suppressed enough, as it turns out — Quaid pays a visit to Rekall, where customers have exciting memories implanted in their subconscious. Before he can even undergo the procedure, an army of gun-toting goons shows up and starts blasting away. The relative ease with which Quaid makes his escape, dispatching a goodly number of said goons along the way, is pretty persuasive evidence that Doug Quaid’s just not himself these days, and that he’s enmeshed in an ongoing planetary struggle currently on the verge of eruption.

Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale are fit and fetching as the ladies in Quaid’s life: the rebel who loves him and the wife who wants to kill him. Both are adept at fisticuffs and firearms, which certainly comes in handy given the proceedings here. So long as Wiseman keeps the action moving (heavy on the CGI effects, too), Total Recall essentially stays on track, even if the high-decibel action tends  to drown out the subtler aspects of the  existential storyline. (Verhoeven’s film did  likewise, for that matter.) Beckinsale (director Wiseman’s off-screen  spouse) enjoys playing the bad girl here, although once the action starts she’s essentially reduced to repeating the same fourletter epithet whenever Quaid successfully eludes pursuit — which he does with some frequency. (Therefore, so does she.)

Bill Nighy, Bokeem Woodbine and John Cho are also aboard, most ending up as fodder for the firepower, while the everbusy Bryan Cranston — notching what seems to be his umpteenth big-screen role of the year — provides requisite villainy as the diabolical dictator Cohaagen. Rest assured, he gets what’s coming to him, and conquest of the Earth isn’t it.

The new Total Recall may not erase memories of the original (ho-ho!), but nor is it an insult to either the Verhoeven film or the original Dick story. As remakes go, this is a good one. The basic blueprint is the same, but this has its own identity and is able to stand on its own merits, although a protracted third act tends to diminish rather than enhance. Still, for those in the mood for an action-packed head trip, Total Recall does not disappoint.

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