After all the superhero shenanigans of this summer, sci-fi fans can finally get excited about a grand scale fantasy action movie that doesn’t involve a single character wearing a cape. The film is even based on a novel by sci-fi thought experiment guru Philip K. Dick (whose previous movie adaptations include Blade Runner and A Scanner Darkly), suggesting there could even be same brains behind the action. Finally, a fresh sci-fi blockbuster to give summer movie audiences something new this year! This is something to get excited about! This is something that could be…oh no wait it’s a remake of Total Recall and it’s directed by Len “I made Underworld and ruined Die Hard” Wiseman. Never mind. It’s dull repetitive garbage. I guess those two deep franchise superhero sequels are the closest thing we’ll get to an original blockbuster this summer after all. Sigh…whatcha gonna do?

The original Arnold Schwarzenegger edition of Total Recall may not have exactly been a brain-tingling masterpiece but at least it was clever, featured Arnie and the peak of his cheesy powers, boasted some stunning make up effects work by Rob Bottin, and was enlivened by director Paul Verhoeven’s patented campy tone and love of over-the-top ultra violence. The new version on the other hand has Colin Farrell at his most disinterested, standard issue CGI, and director Len Wiseman’s usual bland and overly frenetic PG-13 action. All of the rough edges and oddball ideas that made the last Total Recall such a beloved trash-classic have been smoothed over in favor of generic Hollywood sheen. There’s nothing special or unique about this movie. Even the opportunity to honor Dick’s original bizarre concept with a more mind-trip sci-fi was set aside in favor of additional indistinguishable action scenes.  Sigh…this is sadly where blockbuster filmmaking has gone in the 22 years since Arnold was first flashed by a three boobed alien on Mars.

Actually, this new Total Recall doesn’t even take place on Mars. It’s on a rotting futuristic earth where only two areas can sustain life on opposite sides of the planet, accessible to each other via a gigantic elevator that goes through the center of the earth. On one side of the planet is a slick city with flying cards and constant advertisements that looks like Minority Report. On the other side is a rotting rain-drenched over-populated American/Asian slum pulled straight out of Blade Runner. In the hands of a better director I’d think that this was a clever intertextual reference trying to suggest all three Philip K Dick adaptations might take place in the world. This movie is by Len Wiseman though, so it’s safe to say that was just lazy rip-off production design. Farrell plays a drone who decides to escape boredom by going to a business called Rekall that implants memories and allows customers to explore vivid fantasies as reality. Farrell chooses a spy adventure and then just as it’s about to start, it turns out he actually was a spy with erased memories and ends up on his own adventure. In a more faithful and interesting movie, you’d constantly be wondering whether you were watching a real story or implanted story from here until the credits roll. This isn’t that kind of movie though, so from here on out it’s just a series of chase sequences.

The one good thing that can be said about Wiseman is that he knows how to stack action scenes ontop of each other and work with complex effects. Unfortunately, he has no sense of pacing so after the 7 or 8th time Farrell goes on the run you’ll get bored, the ultimate sin in an action movie. Farrell sets the tone for every one else’s performance and that tone is one of bewildered sleepwalking. No actor is bad, but no actor does anything memorable (well, Beckinsale is decent as an ice queen villain, but then she’s married to Wiseman so there’s probably an obvious reason why she has the best role). In fact, the problem with the movie is that it is completely generic and forgettable from start to finish (ironic given the title and subject matter). The lone moments of subversion and excitement are either references to the last Total Recall or other, better action movies. I’d call it a total disaster were it not for the fact that the movie does pretty well exactly what it’s expected to do.

Let’s be honest, how high were the expectations for this Total Recall? No one who likes Dick or the original film will give it much thought. This movie is made for undemanding summer audiences who just want expensive special effects, shootouts, hot actresses, and lots of all three. Wiseman does deliver on those low expectations, so it can’t be described as a total failure. We just should be able to expect more out of a summer blockbuster. Especially given the fact that, you know, there already is one blockbuster out there called Total Recall that succeeds in the every way this unnecessary rehash fails. Make of that what you will.

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