Though I saw TOTAL RECALL a mere 48 hours ago, my recollection of it is less than total. I do remember Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel walloping the daylights out of each other. And, as is usually the case in these sorts of action thrillers, neither of them so much as dislodges her lip gloss– though every right cross, karate chop, and flying kick lands with the apparent force of an atomic bomb.
In fact, nothing here really lands– not even the usually memorable Colin Farrell’s performance as a man who suddenly discovers he may not be who he thought he was. Farrell’s slight frame and dark beady-eyes give him the appearance of a startled elf. The 1990 original directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger was more muscular in every way– gripping and even funny, with Arnold delivering signature one-liners along with a fusillade of punishment.
In the intervening 22 years, we’ve seen a lot of action-packed sci-fi thrillers, and this remake recalls all of them without adding anything new to the Philip K. Dick short story on which it is based. And so, lamentably, TOTAL RECALL feels like a total recall of now familiar tropes: the hero with mind-altering memories who doesn’t know who he is, but can somehow disarm and dismember 20 attackers simultaneously, a la Jason Bourne. There’s the “lone hero who must save the world” as in “Die Hard.” And there’s the grime and damp of a clogged, burned-out future metropolis seared into memory in the masterful BLADE RUNNER–also based on Mr. Dick’s work.
The film also traffics in cliches– the big climax where the villain pontificates just before issuing the death blow–which of course is his undoing. (Trust me– that is NOT a spoiler.) There are many missed opportunities here; the brilliant Bill Nighy as the mysterious rebel leader is wasted; there are two gorgeous actresses and not a single love scene. And neither of the women registers as a complete character, though Beckinsale’s rabid performance is the most notable among the cast.
TOTAL RECALL? Forget it. You’ve seen it all before.