Take away the well-known name, and Total Recall is nothing more than a standard issue, forgettable sci-fi adventure. Been there, done that and saw dozens of other movies do it better.
Recall is of course the force fed remake of 1990’s movie with the same title, which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as everyman Douglas Quaid. Colin Farrell reprises the Quaid role, in this telling a factory worker who puts together the nuts and bolts of mechanical police officers. Though nowhere near Farrell’s worst work (see him in Daredevil for cringe-worthy entertainment), he’s unable to add even a dash of depth and charisma to the character. There’s no reason we would want to root for this guy, other than he’s played by a known actor.
A prologue tells us that following mass warfare, earth in the year 2084 is separated into two habitable land masses — a lower-class region called The Colony, where Quaid lives in a modest apartment with his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale), and the United Federation of Britain, overseen by the crooked Chancellor Cohaagen (a clichéd-line spewing Bryan Cranston, who’s far too great an actor to have left the set of Breaking Bad for this). To fans of the original Recall, I offer my sincerest apologies before telling you that no trips to Mars will be taken in this rehashed version. Cohaagen’s master plan is to spread his reign through The Colony by raiding it with the same mechanical officers Quaid helps make for a living. Yawn.
Quaid keeps having these dreams where he sees himself in a near death experience with a woman he seems to care deeply about. These dreams are more desirable than his real life (which includes being married to Kate Beckinsale, mind you), so against the warnings of his friend Harry (Bokeem Woodbine), he makes a trip to a place called Rekall. There he gets to choose a virtual life and experience it via a serum given intravenously. Quaid opts for the life of a double agent and gets strapped into the memory machine, but Cohaagen’s officers storm through the door to arrest him before the serum can kick in. They’re there for a rebel agent named Hauser, and Quaid pleads with them that he’s a nobody before wasting them all with great ease. Confused, he returns home from his traumatic incident only to have Lori try to kill him as she reveals (gasp!) she was never his wife and he is in fact Hauser. She’s Cohaagen’s right-hand woman pretending to be his wife, sent on a mission to bring him in. Quaid escapes from Lori, and while on the run he gets help from the woman he kept seeing in his dreams, fellow rebel agent Melina (Jessica Biel).
Is Quaid actually Hauser, or he is still strapped to the chair back at Rekall dreaming all this nonsense? Certainly an intriguing mystery, one which 1990’s Recall explored more than this one does. Movies in recent memory have played all too much with audience members’ minds, to the point where ambiguity and open-ended plots feel cheap. But I ask director Len Wiseman: You have a movie that in its very nature actually warrants total ambiguity, and you choose to stay away from that to instead present the audience with something mostly straightforward? I was eager to be mindfucked, and instead got more action and hammy dialogue than intrigue.
What Recall does have going for it is the summer release date. The action sequences, while nothing special, keep the movie flowing. For that reason alone, some moviegoers will find Recall enjoyable. But beyond that action, what we have is a largely unimaginative and underwhelming science fiction with talented actors trying to compensate for a script that’s just no good. You’re better off recalling the Schwarzenegger original instead.