Does the world need a remake of Total Recall? The 1990 original didn’t look or sound like anything we’d seen before, with its mix of intriguing ideas, cutting-edge special effects, and overblown violence, courtesy of the never-subtle director Paul Verhoeven. The new version starts off well enough but winds up being just another loud, busy, effects-driven movie where the human element is superficial at best. When it was over, I didn’t feel energized; I was worn down.
Colin Farrell does a good job in the lead, so long as you don’t compare him with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who owned—and helped define—the earlier film. Whether or not you admire that movie, it made an impression. With a new generation of visual effects at his command, director Len Wiseman has the ability to paint on a broader canvas, but since we see this caliber of movie magic on a regular basis it’s no longer an Event. The one exception is a gripping chase scene involving futuristic hovercraft vehicles: this is unquestionably the highlight of the picture.
The central premise, about a man who has had his memory wiped clean and replaced, along with a new identity, derives from Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.” Both movies use it as a springboard for the screenwriters’ inventions, turning the film into more of an action vehicle with science-fiction overtones.
Comparisons are odious but inevitable: like Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone (not yet a major star) made a tremendous impact in the earlier movie, as she transformed herself from Arnold’s beautiful wife into a ruthless fighting machine. In the equivalent role, Kate Beckinsale uses her physicality quite well, but it no longer comes as a shock.
What drags the movie down in its second half is the wearying sense that none of the principal characters are truly human at all: they’re indestructible, repeatedly surviving high falls and beatings that by any measure of reason should turn them into pulp.
The new screenplay, by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback, doesn’t try to copy the Verhoeven film verbatim, which is to its credit. But what we get instead is unexceptional, and that’s too bad.