If you’re looking for some Arnold Schwarzenegger, you’ll have to wait for The Expendables 2 (Aug. 17!). Here, Colin Farrell is workaday guy Douglas Quaid. He lives in the Colony, one of two areas left on Earth that are still inhabitable after chemical warfare destroyed the rest. The Colony appears to be roughly Australia; the other area is the United Federation of Britain. Workers from the Colony commute each day to the more well-to-do UFB via The Fall, a bullet train that travels to the other side of the world in about 17 minutes by zooming straight through the core of the planet. Douglas takes The Fall with his pal Harry (Bokeem Woodbine) to get from his small crappy apartment in the Colony to the factory in the UFB where he builds the robots that make up the robot police force/army protecting the UFB from terrorists. Or, rather, from a group trying to free the Colony from the yoke of the UFB that officials like Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) have set up as terrorists.
But Douglas doesn’t really care about any of that. He reads his Ian Fleming novel during The Fall and comes home to his lovely wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale). There is, however, a little question mark that nags at the corner of his mind: Is there more to life than this? Harry tells him to leave it alone, but Douglas feels restless. So when he hears about Rekall, he decides to check it out. Rekall is something of an amusement park ride for the brain. They hook you up and give you whatever experiences you desire ― say, being a secret agent. Douglas likes the sound of this ― heck, be a double agent, Rekall worker McClane (John Cho) says. OK, says Douglas. Just as they are about to plug him in to the dream-time juice, police agents burst in. Maybe Douglas’ life is really closer to his fantasies than it appears.
It’s hard to talk about this movie much beyond this without spoiling around the edges. Let’s just say that for a good chunk of the movie, Quaid is on the run and he is caught in a strange mistaken identity plot ― is the person who may or may not be who he thinks he is. Quickly, Beckinsale’s Lori joins in the chase as does Jessica Biel as Melina, a resistance fighter who may or may not know Quaid. Like, you know, know him.
This all sounds twisty and muddled, but in reality it’s fairly straightforward. Yep, this is what it’s going to be, stop hoping for some clever turn of events, the movie seems to tell you. You’ve got your Colin Farrell Jason Bourne-ing it through the future with some girl-butt-kicking courtesy of Biel and Beckinsale. You’ve got just the most bare bones of a conspiracy with Bryan Cranston. And you’ve got the futuristic lady of the evening, complete with her three boobs, which (as I gather from Wikipedia) was apparently in the first movie.
That’s right, I’ve never seen the 1990 Total Recall. If I was watching a rated R movie in 1990, it was probably the VHS of Heathers.
Without the original to judge it against, this Total Recall doesn’t seem like a great affront to my pop culture history. Nor does it seem great. It hangs in the same space occupied by that Justin Timberlake movie from 2011 In Time ― OK sci-fi set in an interesting future that is never really mined for its story potential. Like that movie, Total Recall eventually just becomes about the action ― about Beckinsale sliding across the floor on her knees to tackle someone or Biel and Farrell just-in-time escaping some fire by explosion. And everybody looks just OK in their part ― believable-ish, interesting enough ― without exactly lighting the world on fire. (Though if the world was lit on fire, there’s a good chance Farrell and Biel could outrun it and then jump to safety.)
Just OK will be fine for some day, a year or more from now, when you flip past this movie on TNT and decide to stop and stay a while. In a movie theater against far better action fair like The Dark Knight Rises or even The Amazing Spider-Man, Total Recall is like an easy pass. B-
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity and language. Directed by Len Wiseman with a screen story by Ronald Shusett & Dan O’Bannon and Jon Povill and Kurt Wimmer and a screenplay by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback (and based on the Philip K. Dick story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”), Total Recall is an hour and 49 minutes long and distributed by Columbia Pictures.