Movie review: 'Total Recall' remake won't make you forget fun of 1990 original

At the end of the 21st century, the shrunken, shattered world has been divided into the haves and have-nots in "Total Recall."

The haves live in the United Federation of Britain and the have-nots in The Colony, a gray, rainy, depressing place where Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) resides. He's a prisoner of routine and recurring, disturbing and vivid dreams.

Every workday, he leaves his wife (Kate Beckinsale) and their apartment and boards The Fall, a giant elevator connecting the two remaining habitable chunks of the planet. The interior looks like a combination 747 airplane, space shuttle and roller coaster, and Quaid and a co-worker sit in the same seats every day as though riding a bus.

'Total Recall'

2.5 stars = Average
Ratings explained
  • Starring: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel.
  • Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity, and language.

The elevator rockets through the Earth at astonishing speeds and delivers the men to their factory jobs. It's not enough for Quaid, who feels like he's doing something that matters, something important, but only in his dreams.

He succumbs to the siren call of Rekall, an outfit that literally makes memories for people and implants them in their brains. "An illusion, no matter how convincing, is just an illusion," he says before agreeing to a gray-matter getaway as a secret agent.

And then something goes awry, and the factory drone finds himself facing a dozen cops. "I'm nobody, I'm nobody," he insists, but he soon discovers he is somebody -- although he's not sure who.

"There is no Doug Quaid, there never was," he is told. "If I'm not me, who the hell am I?" he asks, trying to separate reality from manufactured truths, implanted memories from authentic ones and the past from the present.

He also could hold the key to the balance of power in the world, with the UFB chancellor (Bryan Cranston) on one side and the resistance leader (Bill Nighy) on the other, which is where the literal woman of his dreams (Jessica Biel) resides.

Yeah, yeah, but how does this "Total Recall" stack up against the 1990 original with Arnold Schwarzenegger?

He was all muscle and red-hot anger on the red planet while Mr. Farrell makes you believe he longs for something more, and when he leaves a trail of bodies at Rekall, he's astonished at what just happened. With the former bodybuilder, nothing seemed impossible.

The women, portrayed by Ms. Beckinsale and Ms. Biel, are lean, mean fighting machines who are given more to do than their 1990 counterparts of Sharon Stone (especially) and Rachel Ticotin.

Keeping the action on Earth means no robot-driven Johnny-Cabs, Mars mutants or creepy humanoids. It does mean hover cars, airborne vehicles that look related to The Bat from "The Dark Knight Rises" and extended chase scenes that become exhaustive.

During the early going, I would have given this version the edge. But it introduced and then largely abandoned all sorts of provocative ideas about memory, identity, reality, fantasy and even anarchy.

Rekall can remember "Total Recall" for you, as a classic sci-fi thriller. In reality, though, it's just good summer entertainment that won't blow your mind.


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: First Published August 3, 2012 4:00 AM


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