Total Recall ✮✮

Rip Van Farrell

by Glenn Lovell

Someone’s messing with Karl Hauser’s mind, making him think he’s Douglas Quaid, an assembly line worker in a late 21st Century robot factory. The pretend Doug is dutiful and dull, dogged by recurring dreams of a more exciting life; Hauser is the real deal, tough, laconic, deadly accurate with an arsenal of weapons. The ripped abs and model-slim missus should have been a tip-off that still waters run deep and that Quaid  ‒ rather, Hauser ‒ is really a super-agent, the last hope of humankind, no less.

That’s the setup for “Total Recall,” an ambitious, if pedestrian, remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger film taken from the Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale. The basic conspiracy thriller/sci-fi mystery plot has been retained, even if the fun side trip to Mars has been dumped. Now we’re dealing with a dystopian society on the order of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis ‒ the rich bask in the sunshine and shiny splendor of the United Federation, the proletariats lockstep their way through the acrid murk of the overpopulated Colony.

The commute from one landmass to the other is by The Fall, a giant, freaky fast elevator. You can think of it as a new slant on the backdoor portal.

This “Recall” stars Colin Farrell as the futureworld Rip Van Winkle. Makes perfect sense. Even on a good day the heavy-lidded Farrell seems dazed, sleep-deprived. Schwarzenegger, in contrast, delivered what was essentially a comic turn, spewing misogynistic one-liners as fast as bullets. But it worked because director Paul Verhoeven had his tongue planted firmly in cheek. His “Recall” was dark and sardonic and, for its day, fairly violent. This version is more no-nonsense, an extended foot and hover-car chase through a meticulously conceived world of floating gardens, malls and freeways. If ever a film cried out to be in 3-D, this is it.

The more tactile approach is not surprising given that Len Wiseman was at the helm as director. Wiseman got his start schlepping props for “Godzilla” and “Independence Day.” Now that he has the world’s most expensive electric train he’s still about production design, grimy surface reality; he treats his actors as pawns and us, his audience, as sharpshooters in a video-game arcade. Verhoeven (also see “Starship Troopers” and “Hollow Man”) is a genre satirist, subversive from the word go. His “Recall” stills elicits as many laughs as gasps.

Joining Ferrell, whose stop at Rekall Inc. results in what’s diagnosed as “a paranoid dissociative break,” are Kate Beckinsale as Quaid’s trophy wife, Jessica Biel as the rebel girlfriend, Bryan Cranston as the Chancellor of the Federation, and Bill Nighy as the legendary Matthias, leader of the rebel insurgents. Beckinsale and Biel, both fighting fit, acquit themselves well enough in the action sequences but function primarily as the killer bitch and killer partner. Cranston, sporting a poufy wig, makes the stock villains in those “Flash Gordon” serials seem credible.

We wait in vain for Arnie’s classic rejoinder: “Consider this a divorce!” Instead, we get Beckinsale’s catty “What can I say ‒ I give good wife.” Hardly an improvement. Ditto the robot army, which could have marched in from a “Star Wars” clone. I’d gladly trade it for an exploding Fat Lady and a Johnnycab.

TOTAL RECALL ✮✮ Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bill Nighy. Directed by Ken Wiseman; scripted by Kurt Wimmer, Mark Bomback from the 1990 movie and Philip K. Dick short story. 118 min. PG-13 (for violence, f/x mayhem)

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