By Niall McArdle
Colin Farrell needs to decide what sort of actor he wants to be. Does he want to be the serious, highly-talented character actor who does so well with roles in films like Seven Psychopaths, Crazy Heart and Ondine, or does he still want to be a Hollywood leading man who makes forgettable summer action junk like Total Recall?
You know the story of course: in the future you can pay to have false memories of your favourite fantasies implanted in your brain. Blue-collar stiff Douglas Quaid (Farrell) wants a secret agent fantasy, but hey! it turns out he already is a secret agent. Mayhem ensues.
The capital of “The United Federation of Britain” is a concrete megalopolis (which at times resembles the Belfield Arts Block during Freshers Week). Its inhabitants are the rich and famous, and it’s ruled by nasty Chancellor Cohagen (Bryan Cranston with odd hair: is it his own or is it a bad toupee to cover his Breaking Bad baldness?) The working classes live in “The Colony” (Australia, somehow bereft of Australian accents), and they commute to London in 17 minutes via “The Fall” (a giant tunnel through the Earth’s core).
Quaid hates his assembly-line job (he makes robot cops) and is dissatisfied with his life. Even though he has sexy Kate Beckinsale at home, he has troubling dreams of sexy Jessica Biel. He goes to Rekall and … well, you know the rest. Early on, Quaid says he wished he could play the piano, so don’t be surprised when he discovers that he can pound out Beethoven, but at least that moment in the film is there to serve the plot. Quaid is confused for much of the film, and Farrell does most of his acting with his eyebrows. While he is confused, you won’t be: this is not a sci-fi for grown-ups, and it wastes most of the talent on screen (especially Bill Nighy as the resistance leader).
Total Recall has shout-outs to the 1990 original (three-breasted hooker, funny disguises), and although it’s well-made, it unfortunately doesn’t have the same gleeful streak of sadism and sleaze that Verhoeven’s had. To ensure as much box-office as possible, it’s a PG-13 film, unlike the R-rated original, so much of the carnage is bloodless (the remake of Verhoeven’s Robocop will no doubt have the same rating).
This is very much director Len Wiseman’s vision (he is the maker of the Underworld films: his film-making vision is that of a horny 14-year old, apparently, as it involves putting his wife Beckinsale into tight outfits and sexy chick-fights). It has – at times – some interesting production and costume design, and one or two very good set-pieces, including a nifty car chase that might make you think of Minority Report or The Fifth Element.
The film has a dark, grungy futuristic look and some cool visual effects. It’s a by-now standard dystopic vision of the future. Most of the planet is in ruins and uninhabitable. It seems to be almost always night and pissing rain, there are hover-cars, a disco-red light district, neon kanji and a surfeit of Asians: it’s Blade Runner for Dummies.
It’s almost worth renting, however, for a very interesting featurette exploring the science involved in some of the fiction. Physicist Michio Kaku explains how we are already living in a world of implanted memories (they’ve done it to rats), hover-cars and holograms, and how a frictionless subway that falls from one side of the earth to the other is theoretically possible. There’s also a gag reel, and you can watch the film in “insight mode” (an enhanced version of the film with behind the scenes interviews with key crew and cast members).
Verdict: Two and a half quizzical eyebrows out of five.