By Chris Packham
Total Recall, directed by Len Wiseman, aspires to be less stupid than its 1990 predecessor and kind of succeeds for the first third of the film.
If you subtract all the metaphysical illusion-versus-reality nonsense, Philip K. Dick's Walter Mitty story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” on which both films are based, is a middle-age power fantasy by a middle-age writer, in which an insignificant schlub discovers that his wife is a bitch and his true identity is a secret agent. Infantile, but fun!
The increasingly Fred Flintstonian Colin Farrell is Douglas Quaid, a discontented line worker down at the Robocop factory, who visits a bento-bar-looking company called Rekall for an escapist memory implant. After going all Krav Maga on a futuristic SWAT team, he discovers that he's actually a memory-wiped soldier in militant resistance movement. Or is he?
Where Paul Verhoeven's original was testosterone-stupid and, therefore, fun, Wiseman's film is just boring-stupid. Instead of the planet Mars, this remake conjures Ye Olde Future Londontowne, and instead of Johnny Cabs and giant drills, it shamelessly recycles the exact same mag-lev highway system from Minority Report.
In fact, anything interesting is appropriated from better sources: the rain-and-neon set designs from Blade Runner, the udder-endowed prostitute from the first Total Recall, the floating platforms of Super Mario World, and the parkour-inflected action of the Bourne films. The nods toward memorable scenes from the Schwarzenegger film include one airport-security gag with an anticlimax so thunderingly dull that you wonder why they bothered.
And why do all of the TV screens in the future go back to having visually discernible raster-scan lines? That is some dial-up-modem shit right there, but it's obviously something Wiseman saw in some other film — Brazil, maybe — and snatched up, magpie-like, for reuse.