By Susan JAMES
Full disclosure: I’ve never seen Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1990 version of “Total Recall,” so I have nothing to compare with director Len Wiseman’s current version. But I doubt if the Schwarzenegger take on a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world and the role of memory in shaping perception would have lingered in the popular culture if it had been as uninvolving as this movie is.
The film’s single strength is its urban look, an homage to the 1982 Harrison Ford classic “Blade Runner.” But where the importance of memory was one of the most powerful elements in “Blade Runner,” in “Total Recall” memory just slows you down.
From a story by sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick, also author of the story that inspired “Blade Runner,” Colin Farrell plays Doug, a factory worker with a boring life and a beautiful wife, Laurie (Kate Beckinsale). Past chemical warfare has destroyed most of the planet leaving only two zones of active occupation: the rulers living in Britain and the ruled in Australia, here called the Colony. The Colony is an urban mess of crowded streets, mixed races and a constellation of neon lights in a variety of alphabets glowing through an ever-present drizzle of rain.
Everyday Colony-dweller Doug takes an underground shuttle through the center of the earth to an assembly line in Britain to crank out androids for the armies that keep the Colony in check. He has no memory of any other life but bad dreams plague him. A place near his home called Rekall advertises a service to alter memories for fantasy playtime and Doug decides to try it out. A shot of joy juice at Rekall begins a mental process where Doug discovers he isn’t who he thought he was. His memories have been altered and soon thugs both human and robotic are after him.
The film opens with a chase and ends with a chase. In between are two hours of chase sequences. The dialogue is sparse and the character development minimal. The filmmakers seem to feel that there is no need to explain their familiar stereotypes – the Bad Guy Overlord (Bryan Cranston), the Bewildered Hero (Farrell), the Loyal Girlfriend (Jessica Biel), the Killer She-Devil (Beckinsale), the Noble Resistance Leader (Bill Nighy). They chase after each other in varying combinations until like a tedious game of musical chairs, only two are left standing.
Why is Britain shown as the elite preserve of white guys and the Colony a holding pattern for everyone else? Some comment on the evils of imperialism and the perils of oppression seems intended but it gets lost. In a curious choice, given the nations involved, English actors Beckinsale and Nighy and Irish actor Farrell are all asked to don American accents for their roles. Why an audience would be confused by Brits speaking with British accents is as much a mystery as why the director and the five credited screenwriters thought one bewildered, memory impaired character running from a mob of robotic storm troopers for the entire length of the movie would be enough to entertain the masses.
Maybe it works in the Colony, but then that’s why there are revolutions.
See you at the movies!