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Review: 'Total Recall' insists you won't believe it

'Total Recall' has a believable lead in Colin Farrell, but the rest of it, though fun at times, can be too much to take. Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel costar.

August 02, 2012|By Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times Film Critic
  • Colin Farrell stars in "Total Recall."
Colin Farrell stars in "Total Recall." (Michael Gibson, Columbia…)

Like a drug that starts with a rush and ends with a headache,"Total Recall"is too much of a good thing.

Though this film shares the same title as the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, 2012's "Total Recall" is not exactly a remake or even a reboot. Both films were inspired by the playfulPhilip K. Dick short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale," and some things are carried over from the first film to this one.

But as directed by Len Wiseman from a screenplay and screen story credited to five different writers, this "Total Recall" plays more like a pop-culture mash-up. It adds elements from"Blade Runner"and"Inception"(as well as a dash of "The Bourne Identity") to the "Recall" cosmos and takes off like a shot. The fun is fun while it lasts, it just doesn't last long enough.

VIDEO: At 'Total Recall' premiere, Colin Farrell embraces the moment

Back we go to a futuristic world where a company called Rekall turns dreams and fantasies into memories. Our initially bedraggled protagonist, Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), discovers that a) he is not at all the person he thinks he is, and b) two beautiful women (Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel) know all about it.

Wiseman, best known for the "Underworld" vampire movies, is especially good at making on-screen action really active. Snappily edited by Christian Wagner and photographed by Paul Cameron, this "Total Recall" is in permanent chase mode, never slowing down to catch its breath or leave anyone the leisure to think too hard about the tenuous plausibility of what they're seeing.

Not surprising for a director who (like Ridley Scott) began his career in the art department, Wiseman has invested a lot of time and energy, plus a chunk of the film's $125-million budget, in the stylish and atmospheric look of not one but two different future worlds.

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As an opening crawl informs us, we are at the end of the 21st century. A global chemical war has made most of the Earth uninhabitable, with the only livable areas being the United Federation of Britain and the Colony, a large island that looks suspiciously like Australia.

The Colony very much lives up to its name, serving as a source of cheap labor for the toffs who run the UFB, led by the all-powerful Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston). Because this is the future, workers from the Colony can commute daily to the UFB via an enormous elevator-type apparatus called the Fall that hurtles right through the center of the Earth. Imagine that.

Both worlds are painstakingly imagined by expert production designer Patrick Tatopoulos. While the UFB is a grand and enormous place, created with the help of a proprietary computer model, the Colony is a grungy Asian-influenced cityscape, heavy on neon and rain, that owes a major debt to the work that Scott, production designer Lawrence G. Paull and art director David Snyder did on the classic "Blade Runner."

"Total Recall" is also fortunate to have the underutilized Farrell as its star. He can handle the film's action demands and his gift for looking worried, regretful and fully human brings a welcome taste of the real world to the proceedings.

Quaid is a migrant assembly line worker married to the beautiful Lori (Beckinsale) but still disenchanted with his life. Rather than being attracted to the worker's resistance movement led by Matthias (Bill Nighy), he decides to get some exciting memories implanted by the helpful folks at Rekall.

But Quaid's innocent notion that it might be fun to imagine being a secret agent turns everything in his world upside down. His wife may not be who he thinks she is. What is he to make of the fetching and somehow familiar Melina (Biel)? And for heaven's sake, why do people insist on telling him, "Anything you think you know, it's not true"?

With Wiseman and company operating at full gallop, "Total Recall" starts out fast-moving and imaginative, but (as written by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback from a story by Ronald Shusett & Dan O'Bannon and Jon Povill and Wimmer) its relentless action and its "is it live or is it Memorex" concerns about what is real and what is not eventually wear you out.

After too many hard-to-follow chases out windows and doors and up and down ultramodern elevator shafts, after too many people saying things like "this is going to sound crazy," "Jesus Christ, it's hard to believe" and "you've got to be kidding me," our systems end up on overload. And there is nothing very futuristic — or entertaining — about that.

kenneth.turan@latimes.com

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'Total Recall'

MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity, and language

Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes

Playing: In general release

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