action, arnold schwarzeneggar, bryan cranston, colin farrell, dystopia, jessica biel, kate beckinsale, Kurt Wimmer, Mark Bomback, paul verhoeven, philip k. dick, robocop, science fiction, sharon stone, showgirls, total recall
“Where is my Mind?”
Grade: C (SKIP IT)
REMEMBER, BACK IN THE NINETIES, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was gladiatorial and not yet gubernatorial, and two words, “Sharon” and “Stone,” spelled the very apex of the filmic femme fatale? They were all there in Paul Verhoeven’s “Total Recall,” based on a Philip K. Dick story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” and adapted by the writing team that gave us “Alien.” The film grossed over a quarter-million dollars over the summer of 1990 and the sequel, in true sci-fi style, transmuted itself not into “Total Recall 2” but into Speilberg’s “Minority Report” starring Tom Cruise and Colin Farrell.
The latter actor now leads “Total Recall,” a remake not exactly worthy of the suffix “2.0” due to its repetitiveness and lack of inspiration. The premise remains a fascinating one and something of a Lockean nightmare: what if an authoritarian form of neuroscience could reduce its enemies into a tabula rasa with just the flip of a switch? As everyman Doug Quaid, Farrell has only vague memories of being a secret agent in the ongoing war between Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan “Breaking Bad” Cranston) and a resistance led by a wasted Bill Nighy. Visiting a laboratory called Rekall, the scientist tells Quaid: “Tell us your fantasy and we’ll give you the memory.” Outside the lab, a chemical attack has cleaved the earth into the Fall, a version of Great Britain, and an imperialized Australia known as the Colony. All the Marxist animosities between workers and over-lords would appear to be in place, but are soon squandered in a film that clings to flying-car chases and endless sequences in which Farrell and sidekick Jessica Biel fall from rooftops. Even more nightmarish is the idea that in the distant future, in a decimated London-like metropolis, “Phantom of the Opera” is still being advertised on double-decker buses.
Directed by Len Wiseman, from a script by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback, this “Total Recall” is a gumbo of other, better, films: Cohaagen’s synthetic drones look like the Storm Troopers of “Star Wars” and the Colony resembles the LA of “Blade Runner” (only wetter). Wiseman should have wised up to the fact that the Verhoeven’s original was full of grotesque splendors: triple-breasted prostitutes, red-hot martian sands, and a human face that came apart like a Rubik’s cube. This was Verhoeven after “Robocop” but before “Showgirls,” and he brought a campiness to the original sadly absent in the reboot.
Then again, Kate Beckinsale (also Mrs. Wiseman) goes for the throat as Quaid’s wife, but if it’s Beckinsale karate-chopping her way through a film you’re after, the “Underworld” franchise will better whet your appetite. Alongside Farrell and Biel (not so much a thespian yet but a very high pair of cheekbones), the cast is comprised of some of Hollywood’s blandest actors: poor Farrell is a hard worker, but he has an empty coolness that keeps him from truly vaulting himself into mega-stardom once and for all. Here, the cast is upstaged by gadgetry, especially a glowing cell phone implanted in the palm. Talk about keeping a phone on hand.
The best bit of dialogue transpires between him and Beckinsale with the query: “If I’m not me, then who am I?” “How do I know?” she replies, “I just work here.” Despite this, however, the sour irony of “Total Recall” is its total forgettability.