'Total Recall' review: A vaguely remembered movie about vaguely remembered experiences

'Total Recall'

'Total Recall' (July 31, 2012)

*1/2 (out of four)

How kind of director Len Wiseman (“Live Free or Die Hard,” “Underworld”) to move the scene featuring a woman with three breasts to an early spot in his remake of “Total Recall,” in case any moviegoers want to leave after seeing the film’s most iconic image.

Anyone who splits, or avoids the movie entirely, won’t miss much. This PG-13, CGI-packed update of the more violent 1990 Schwarzenegger flick screams “generic hackwork,” except “work” more fittingly describes the experience of watching it than the effort put into it. At least the original “Total Recall,” based on a Philip K. Dick short story, offered some examination of its artificial memories vs. reality subject matter along with a handful of memorably weird moments. The remake omits nearly all of those oddities and any complexity whatsoever, taking five more minutes to tell a story five times as dumb.

Colin Farrell steps in for Schwarzenegger as Doug Quaid, an ordinary schmo working as a robot technician or something like that. Actually, hold on: What makes this guy so ordinary? He’s got the hottest wife in sight (Kate Beckinsale, Wiseman’s wife) and boasts muscles that suggest he could easily beat some ass when prompted. Doug should look in the mirror and not be so astounded to find out a futuristic program that implants memories into your brain has not, as he requested, transformed him into a secret agent—because surprise! He already is one.

If a guy played by Michael Cera or Jason Schwartzman found out he was actually a deadly spy, that would be a shocker.

Anyway, Doug then lands in the middle of a long-standing battle between the powerful Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) and a resistance leader played by Bill Nighy, whose brief performance seemingly imitates Splinter from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” It’s all an excuse for excessively mundane fighting and shooting, despite the frequent presence of shiny interactive technology and action sequences that pale when compared to Steven Spielberg’s 2002 Dick adaptation, “Minority Report.” “Recall” also withers next to the killer-searching-for-the-truth-about-himself “Bourne” franchise, whose latest installment “The Bourne Legacy” (out Aug. 10) was originally set to come out this week and really make “Total Recall” look bad.

Of course, the movie looks plenty bad on its own. As a woman who proves to exist not just in Doug’s dreams, Jessica Biel demonstrates why she rarely lands parts better than this in movies better than this. Those who lamented the plot holes of “Prometheus” will miss the relative believability there; “Total Recall” glosses over the details of this society’s class bias and Doug’s entire reason for existing. It also anchors an action sequence around a bomb idiotically set to go off in 22 seconds. Would you believe that leaves plenty of time for the heroes to get away?
 

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com. @mattpais

 

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