"If I'm not me, then who the hell am I?"
Don't be alarmed by the headline. Those of you looking for your average, run-of-the-mill popcorn flick (minus the butter and hold the salt) can look no further because Total Recall 2.0, otherwise known as Total Recall for the new(er) millennium, is finally here.
And it's gloriously ridiculous, just the way you ordered it.
The remake of the 1990 sci-fi film of the same title, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, gets a facelift for a new audience that manages to keep enough of the same premise: An average Joe, Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), goes on a virtual vacation to become a super spy in his dream life in order to escape the banality of his real life as a factory worker and husband to his wife , Lori (Kate Beckinsale). But as he falls deeper into this self-made fantasy, the lines between his real life and his dream world blur. All of a sudden he's a wanted man in a a unsettled, futuristic environment that's bursting at the seams, both politically and literally, all on account of one volatile man, Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston). He stumbles onto safe ground with rebel fighter, Melina (Jessica Biel), but their fate is not guaranteed, and Doug finds himself once again on the run.
While the original certainly wasn't above a remake, it is still quite an undertaking to take on. There are so many opportunities to make a remake better, but this film didn't attempt none of them. As you can imagine (and probably remember from the original film), there's a lot plot here. But what this remake does better than its predecessor is that it makes you care more about Doug (more on account of its screenplay, not Farrell's performance). While the original did a better job at creating a far scarier and more dire fantasy world, Schwarzenegger (with no help from the screenplay) just didn't convince the audience to feel any type of emotion for him, which made the supporting characters that much more interesting.
Farrell as Doug doesn't really have an emotional connection with the audience either, even though the updated screenplay calls for that. He's less wooden than Schwarzenegger, but he spends so much time trying to gain the audience's affection toward him (unsuccessfully) that he neglects to elicit the same sense of urgency and duplicity that he needs to fulfill the character. It just falls flat.
Even the the cinematography, as slick and impressive as it is, fails to give you the same sense of decrepit wasteland that the original did effortlessly. While the more progressive side of the world, ruled by Cohaagen, looks appropriately straight out of The Jetsons with its flying cars and automated everything, the other side of the world aptly looks like the inside of a garbage pail, but with a lot less horror. It's just not right.
But, on the other hand, what is done right is the casting of Beckinsale, who does employ the right amount of artifice for her character. Sometimes you love her, other times you hate her. But you always get her, which is what matters most. Regardless of what you think of Beckinsale (who's actually pretty great in her dramatic roles, whenever she gets them), she surely works well with husband Len Wiseman, who directed this film and all four Underworld movies.
Then there's Biel and Cranston. As usual, Biel is serviceable here. She, like Anne Hathaway, is the type of actress that can move the plot, but should never be the plot, which serves her well here. There really is nothing memorable about her performance, except the sharp contrast from Beckinsale's. Cranston was deliciously wicked, just like you always dreamed your captain villain would be in a summer blockbuster. Too bad he isn't given more substance in his role. If you've seen any episode of Breaking Bad, you'd know that he could certainly handle that.
While it tries to capture some of the same elements of the original, Total Recall is not nearly as gripping. It's not even the timeless B-movie the original can at least boast. With an overwrought plot and an almost clueless lead character depiction, it will surely alienate some fans. But, it has catfights, flying cars, deliriously long chase scenes and....Farrell without his shirt. So...there's that.