Saturday, August 11, 2012

Total Recall

I'm not sure what I was doing in 1990 that kept me from seeing the Paul Verhoeven-directed Total Recall, but my not seeing it then brings me to the new version with no expectations. Those more familiar with the source material and the first film than I am tell me that Len Wiseman's new Total Recall maintains the central conceit of the original (In the future, a company called Rekall can implant false memories in your mind.) and spins off into something new. Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) has a workaday  job in the factory that produces "synthetic" cops for the central government; a trip to his local Rekall branch is meant to be an escape from a life going nowhere. When police storm the room where Doug is getting his new memories the ensuing gunfight reveals that Doug has some untapped skills, and the recurring dreams he has about gunmen and an unidentified woman (Jessica Biel) begin to take on meaning.

Total Recall has been designed with an eye to carefully organized chaos; wars have driven much of the population to Australia, known as "The Colony", and the mid-air apartment block that Doug and his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale, the movie's greatest asset) live in has a crowded, Pacific feeling. The action scenes have been designed with some original thought for the use of space. There's a brawl in a moving elevator that's wonderfully abrupt and a shootout in zero gravity that I don't recall seeing before. Farrell is dogged and earnest as his memories slowly return and he discovers his true purpose,  but he's capable of more wit than he shows here and gets thoroughly outswaggered by Beckinsale. Playing a woman with her own agenda and motivated by both jealousy and careerism, Beckinsale stakes her claim as Hollywood's most unlikely female tough. Her ability to convey physical menace works best in the early scenes when Farrell's Doug is still figuring things out, but as the plot involving a rebel leader (Bill Nighy) and a dictator (Bryan Cranston) kicks in she's too much stuck on the sidelines. Total Recall is entertaining enough, but the emotional arc of a man relearning his life doesn't land and finally there's a coldness at the movie's center. If we're going to get remakes of Arnold Schwarzenegger films then Total Recall was a good one to get out of the way,but I'm very afraid of Kindergarten Cop.

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