A remake of “Total Recall,” the enjoyable but lightweight 1990 action-thriller starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone, would seem to be about as necessary as a down jacket in summer.
If anyone wanted to make the case that Hollywood has run out of ideas, it would seem that this project – starring Colin Farrell of the ill-fated “Miami Vice” reboot – could be Exhibit A. But, surprisingly, “Recall” 2.0 offers a fresh, visually rich take on the well-worn tale.
The new “Recall” dispenses with the Martian angle that was at the heart of Philip K. Dick’s 1966 short story (“We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”) and the original film in which a futuristic wage-slave named Douglas Quaid – feeling his life needs a pick-me-up – goes to a company that implants memories of exotic experiences that feel real.
He wants memories of being a crime-fighter on Mars but, as it turns out, he just may really be a secret agent – one with dangerous enemies who don’t want him to know who he really is.
Director Len Wiseman (“Underworld”) and screenwriters Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback have kept this version earthbound with Farrell as Quaid, a working-class guy who lives in The Colony, a shabby, Bangkok-meets-“Blade Runner” future world of drizzle and dark. The Colony supplies workers for the United Federation of Britain, the center of civilization now that most of the planet has been laid bare by chemical warfare.
Quaid, leading a boring life and married to the seemingly adoring Lori (Kate Beckinsale), is intrigued by the concept of memory implantation. But things go very, very wrong and lots of people end up very, very dead when he undergoes the procedure. Someone doesn’t want him messing with his brain.
From there, it’s a chase across the planet as Quaid has to figure out what’s real and who can be trusted. His wife? His best friend (Bokeem Woodbine)? The resistance leader (Bill Nighy)? The resistance fighter (Jessica Biel)? The guy who runs the United Federation of Britain (Bryan Cranston)?
“Total Recall” sports a great look – both the Asian-influenced Colony and more European UFB are retro-future hothouses of crowds, cars and impending crime – and Wiseman has created a visual world in which a viewer just wants to get lost. The director also shows a flair for action scenes – a zero-gravity chase/fight is especially fun.
It’s not all just about looks. Farrell is solid as Quaid, a guy coming to grips with his true self, and an over-the-top Beckinsale gets to channel her inner action figure.
Unfortunately, “Total Recall’s” charms begin to wear thin after the first hour and the film runs out of steam by the end, collapsing under the weight of too many explosions. Still, there’s enough here to give you a little faith that someone, somewhere in Hollywood knows what they’re doing after all.