Now that we have the best part of the movie out of the way, there's little else to rave about. Total Recall is a remake of the vastly superior Arnold Schwarzenegger film that bears the same name made approximately twenty years prior. In other words, a movie that is supposed to be steeped in science fiction (the original Total Recall was based on a short story by the sci-fi guru, Phillip K. Dick) with all the technological advantages of the 21st century comes nowhere close to touching its predecessor.
This Total Recall takes place in a kind of post-apocalyptic world where only Great Britain and Australia are habitable countries. Everyplace else is some kind of toxic zone. For reasons unknown, the people of Great Britain live like fat cats that transport – via a massive transit system – occupants of Australia to work in its factories. Not exactly cost-efficient, but I was willing to believe.
Enter Quaid (Colin Farrel), one of these factory workers from Australia. We first meet Quaid waking up next to his wife Lori (played by a never-more-beautiful Kate Beckinsale) and learn Quaid's life is stuck in monotony. He's one of those poor cads who has to take the metro into Great Britain to repair synthetic robots. If Sisyphus got to wake up next to Kate Beckinsale, I'm sure he'd be willingly go up that mountain day-in, day-out. Nevertheless, Quaid is dissatisfied with how his life turned out and longs for the dog days of playing piano, being rich, getting promotions, and generally being a more rounded individual. Because the plot doesn't permit Quaid to be promoted, he decides to visit a company called Rekall which specializes in implanting artificial, albeit exciting, memories (say, a secret agent mission or a trip to Mars) in its customers. These memories are meant to complement one's ho-hum existence. It was at this point I turned to my compatriot in the theater and wondered whether it wouldn't make more sense to be implanted with terrible memories, thus making you appreciate your real lot in life when you came out of Rekall. (“Holy s--t, I was a toilet cleaner in India in my youth . . . look at me now, Mom! Your boy works in a factory and he married Kate Beckinsale. I'll never whine again.”)
While Quaid deals with his existential crisis, a class struggle led by some rebel leader named Matthias (Bill Nighy, representing Australia) wages on against the political head of Great Britain, Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston). There is talk of “terrorism” and newsreels of bombings. Nevertheless, Quaid goes in for some memories and chooses “secret agent,” but before anything goes down, the police show up and Quaid goes on some kind of killing spree. Turns out Quaid worked for Cohaagen in his former life, had his memories altered, and now works for Matthias? Also, Lori is not his actual wife.
Chases ensue. Bombs blow up. We're treated to some “psychological drama” reminiscent of Inception. Is Quaid a real secret agent or is it all part of the Rekall process? Are his memories of Lori real? Did he really choose Jessica Biel over Kate Beckinsale? And, are we really to believe Bryan Cranston could go toe-to-toe with Colin Farrell in a fist fight?
Comparing this movie to the original is an insult to the latter. For starters, they are little alike and really only retain the same name. The original Total Recall hung on Arnold Schwarzenegger. Since his acting was limited, when he yearned we appreciated. Colin Farell is the better actor, but he's overshadowed by the filmmakers' love of special effects (which are quite exceptional, actually). Everyone else does what's required of them, but at this point in the summer – after The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises – special effects don't cut it anymore. And, making a movie about class struggle is so last Occupy Wall Street.
Nevertheless, if you've seen The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Moonrise Kingdom, and/or Brave – and you've already rented or Netflixed The Muppets - Total Recall isn't a bad way to spend two hours and some change.