Relentlessly paced and hard-working–and despite the protean efforts of Colin Farrell– the re-boot of Total Recall, brimming over with too many action sequences (making it 20 minutes too long) somehow is just okay. The production values are amazing if a tad derivative, making the flick (and it is a flick) look like as if Blade Runner and Minority Report met and mated on the set of Transformers.
What happened? The source story (a Philip K. Dick piece) is provocative, as fresh today as it was in l990’s Total Recall (starring a Mr. Schwarzenegger). It’s better executed than the first film (Farrell is at the top of his action game) and the two female leads (Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel) handle their action-stuff with aplomb. But its exhaustive length seemed to numb out the audience, to judge from the deluge of coughing and bathroom visits in the third act. A bladder awash with soda can’t manage beyond 90 minutes, it appears. (Bigger is not always better, except in the case of Michael Fassbender.)
Synopsis? Well, the movie also stumbles in explaining stuff in the last act. Just when we need clarity we get garbled exposition, especially in the dialogue of the arch-villain (played by Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston). In a movie like this, nothing really much matters as long as everything explodes–and in this thing, believe me, everything does.
Still, let’s back up. After a bummed-out Douglas Quaid (Farrell) visits a Rekall parlor to have pleasanter memories installed in his head (such are the vacations of the blue collar set), Our Hero begins to suspect he’s not Douglas Quaid but someone with Quaidian memories recently implanted. He’s right, as he quickly finds out. Now he must try to find out who he really is–an admirable McGuffinesque goal. But there are more twists and turns here than in all the Kardashian marriages combined, too many twists and turns, so that the effect is inadvertently comic rather than dramatic.
With “Quaid” now on the run the movie turns into a chase film, and those production values soar and shine, with Farrell running and falling, running and falling, running and falling (with an occasional interruption so he can get good and pummeled). He also becomes confused about which side he’s on–the corrupt establishment’s or the intrepid fighters of the resistance. (We’re supposed to care, too, but it’s hard when everyone is really just so much cannon fodder.)
Farrell, as buffed up as imaginable, also is not always sure whom to trust, including his head full of memories. Whose memories? Ah, that would be telling.
Don’t get me wrong. If pressed for some down-and-dirty action, you can try this version (doomed at the box office, I betcha) and get your fix. Or you can wait till it emerges on DVD, with, no doubt, a director’s cut. Farrell is good, the story garbled, the effects splendid, the length unconscionable. And did I mention that the explosions are real good? And sometimes that is enough.
NOTE: For a superior Colin Farrell movie, check out In Bruges, co-starring Ralph Fiennes. It can stick in your mind.