Starring: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel
Directed by: Len Wiseman (“Underworld,” “Live Free or Die Hard”)
Written by: Kurt Wimmer (“Salt”) and Mark Bomback (“Live Free or Die Hard”)
Remakes of movies people remember fondly are a tough sell from the start. Not only do you have to engage the audience with the story you’re telling, but you’ve got to do so in a way that doesn’t have the audience mentally checking off plot points from the DVD they have sitting on the shelf at home. Recently, the filmmakers behind the updates of “Footloose,” “The Karate Kid,” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” have tried, with varying degrees of success, to strike the right balance between satisfying the fans of the original who are drawn to the name recognition a remake brings and the need to put a unique spin on the story to justify the existence of the new version.
The latest modern classic to receive the remake treatment is “Total Recall.” This new spin on the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi/action film stars Colin Farrell as Doug Quaid, a post-apocalyptic factory worker suffering from vivid nightmares. In an effort to change his life, Quaid pays a visit to Rekall, a company specializing in implanting fake memories into the minds of their clients such as dream vacations or wild sexual fantasies. Quaid’s procedure is aborted, however, when the staff realizes that his memory has already been erased and a commando team blasts its way in, guns blazing. Upon escaping, Quaid returns home to find his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) is out to kill him and that their marriage is a lie that has been implanted in his head. Escaping for the second time, Quaid encounters Melina (Jessica Biel), a resistance fighter he shares a past with bent on bringing down the evil Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston).
This version of “Total Recall” suffers from a fatal flaw: not getting its ass to Mars. Director Len Wiseman (“Underworld”) has crafted a slick, lens-flared world torn in two by chemical warfare, but keeping the action Earth-bound turns the film into a dull, anonymous sci-fi slog. The futuristic cityscapes populated with flying cars zipping through canyons of neon signs are never as effective as the papier-mâché Martian caves from the original and feel like they could have been lifted wholesale from “Blade Runner” or “The Fifth Element” or even “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones.” Outside of the clearly-enjoying-himself Cranston, the cast doesn’t fare any better. Farrell’s Quaid is a bland, less tormented Jason Bourne, Beckinsale is merely playing an evil version of her acrobatic hero from the “Underworld” movies, and Jessica Biel is just a pretty actress wearing frumpy military-style clothing and shooting guns. Implant a positive memory and watch the original version on DVD instead.