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Review: 'Total Recall' is instantly forgettable

By Tom Charity, Special to CNN
updated 12:43 PM EDT, Sat August 4, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New film is a remake of the 1990 movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • This version stars Colin Farrell and Kate Beckinsale
  • Reviewer calls new "Total Recall" "a wholesale rip-off"

Editor's note: This review may contain spoilers.

(CNN) -- Philip K. Dick's stories of warped realities, paranoid delusions and authoritarian nightmares have made him arguably the most influential science fiction writer in Hollywood (not that the movie industry has a monopoly on these things you understand). Yet the film versions of his stories -- "Blade Runner," "The Adjustment Bureau," "Paycheck" -- give a highly sanitized, streamlined impression of his work.

An inferior remake of 1990's Paul Verhoeven movie, "Total Recall" is inspired by the short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale," about a clerk who dreams of going to Mars, but gets memory implants of the trip as the next best thing (or does he?). The 1990 version of "Total Recall" starred Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In the new movie, the guy, Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell), commutes halfway around the world from Australia -- "The Colony" -- to the only other liveable land left, the United Federation of Britain, to work on an assembly line putting together robots.

Miserable about his lot in life, and plagued with a strange recurring dream, Doug takes a trip to Rekall, where they promise to make his fantasies feel true. "You could be a spy," they tell him. "Work for the Resistance. Or the Leader. Or better yet, both." Then, just as they inject him, the company is raided in a hail of bullets, and Quaid is running for his life, no longer sure of who he is or what he believes.

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Screenwriter Kurt Wimmer ("Salt," "Equilibrium") has cut Mars out of the proceedings entirely, but he's also eviscerated the playful, post-modern wit that spiced Verhoeven's proudly gory shoot-em-up.

The new PG-13 "Total Recall" can still be read both ways, as the story of a "sleeper" agent who wakes up or the story of an ordinary Joe's escapist fantasy. But either way it's an infinitely more pedestrian entertainment, essentially a long succession of repetitive chase scenes, hollow explosions and the kind of speech balloon dialogue that reduces even good actors to robotic mode. Why is it Colin Farrell always seems so much more energized in supporting roles?

None of the new film's innovations seems to have been thought through. Why would Britain be spared from a chemical apocalypse that claimed the rest of the Northern Hemisphere? And more specifically, why would Westminster be spared from the fallout, while North London is a toxic wasteland?

Why would workers in the Colony commute, daily, by rocketship, to the other side of the globe to add rivets to robots? Can't they get robots to do that? What are the rebels rebelling against -- long commutes?

Presumably it's intentional that Quaid's wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale), could easily be the sister of Resistance fighter Melina (Jessica Biel) -- they might share the same plastic surgeon -- but if there was a point I suspect it wound up on the cutting room floor.

As to the look of the film, the shunting gamer action sequences will have you itching for your handset while the teeming CGI almost makes the much-discussed "Blade Runner" sequel redundant. A rain-soaked, vertical metropolis fusing Asian and Occidental cultures, the Colony replicates Scott's Los Angeles 2019 right down to the hover cars and parasols, switching Big Ben in for the Bradbury building. It has been given a digital gloss, but that might have been imported from yet another Dick movie, "Minority Report." Even the robots are cloned.

In short, "Underworld" director Len Wiseman has ransacked bigger, better imaginations to produce something that looks and sounds like a wholesale rip-off.

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