Director Len Wiseman's Total Recall kicks off with the cocksure confidence of a summer blockbuster but soon, like its lead character, forgets what it is and careens into nothing more than an uninspired action set-piece.
It’s a shame since Wiseman starts things right by latching on to the mind-bending playfulness inherent in Philip K. Dick's novella I Can Get It for You Wholesale. But it’s as if no one has warned Wiseman not to wake a sleepwalker because to do so is to risk startling and confusing the sleeper and setting them off running without direction. And that's exactly what happens about midway through the film when the game of “is it real or is it recall?” is shaken from its dream-state in favour of some noisy combustibles and a few flashy but unimpressive pyrotechnics.
Still, give some credit to Wiseman for rocking a look that is more in keeping with Dick's vision as outlined in the novella than did the Paul Verhoeven version from 1990, which seemed to have ripped its set directly from an Outer Limits back lot. In Wiseman’s world, Earth is a kind of shape-shifting Rubik’s cube. I do have my suspicions that Total Recall is totally recalling every Philip K. Dick inspired film from Blade Runner to Minority Report to its own namesake and predecessor with, I Robot and the Star Wars storm troopers thrown in as a bonus. But to suggest that this Total Recall shares a resemblance to Blade Runner is like comparing an Etch-a-Sketch to an iPad. Any possibility of spectacle is lost in the synthetics of CGI.
I have no issue with Colin Farrell who effectively manages all sides of his am-I-or-aren't-I hero with an identity crisis. Bryan Cranston, however, is a serious disappointment, scowling and stomping across the screen with the dramatic range of a television show guest star. It makes me recognize the contribution Richard Dawson gave to science fiction movie villains.
Wiseman seems to think that the one thing we've all been missing in our summer action thrillers is a head-to-head battle between titans Farrell and Cranston because the fight between Iron Man and Thor earlier this summer in The Avengers wasn’t enough to carry us through to winter. But Cranston's a 60-something American television star and Farrell's a tough young Irish movie star – the fight was won before it started.
Far better utilized are Jessica Biel and Wiseman's main squeeze Kate Beckinsale, who channel into Total Recall some much needed butt-kicking energy from whatever misgivings they might have at being overlooked as Christopher Nolan’s femme-de-choix for Catwoman.
Beckinsale is a particular standout until the film cops out on her character, abandoning her with just enough motivation to send her sprinting full speed down narrow corridors.
But her fate is one suffered by every character in the film. By the time each major player – the cop, the wife, the girlfriend, the anarchist and the politician – are collectively assembled in frame to take part in a feverish pitch of exposition-catch-up, all memory of the good that came before is successfully erased.
After that, the only thing left for any of them to do is to make a mad dash towards the end credits.
Director – Len Wiseman
Duration – 118 mins
Rating – 2/5