Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel star in the remake of "Total Recall." (Michael Gibson / Columbia…)
Like the 1990 original starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, the new "Total Recall," starring Colin Farrell, tells the futuristic tale of a blue-collar workman who may or may not be a super-spy with implanted memories. The new version, directed by Len Wiseman, raises a question of collective memory as well -- namely, how does the new "Recall" match up to the nostalgia of its beloved predecessor? For many movie critics, the answer seems to be: not too favorably.
The Times' Kenneth Turan gives a measured review, appraising the film with a pharmaceutical analogy: "Like a drug that starts with a rush and ends with a headache, 'Total Recall' is too much of a good thing." Less a remake or a reboot than a "pop-culture mash-up," the film draws on such films as "Blade Runner," "Inception" and "The Bourne Identity" and then hurtles into "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." Eventually, Turan says, it wears you out. On the plus side, he commends Farrell's performance and Patrick Tatopoulos' production design.
The New York Times' A.O. Scott says that the premise of the film -- which, along with the 1990 version, is based on a Philip K. Dick story -- "contains the seeds of an interesting economic and political allegory, but the ambitions of the filmmakers … lie in the direction of maximum noise and minimum sense." Scott adds that despite Farrell being "one of the hardest-working would-be movie stars in the game … after less than 24 hours I can’t recall anything Mr. Farrell said or did, other than run from Ms. [Kate] Beckinsale, sometimes in the company of Jessica Biel." (Schwarzenegger's cheesy line readings, on the other hand, somehow endure 22 years later.)
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The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern, who for the record classifies the original "Recall" as "clever and playful, as well as exciting and hugely impactful," says that in the new version, "it's often hard to tell where the story is playing out" -- but even worse, he adds, "After a while it doesn't matter, since the action is as repetitive as it is relentless, a succession of fights and frantic chases accompanied by those drums that have come to define the genre -- pacemakers for heartless thrillers." Morgenstern does concede that "the visuals are great, especially if you're partial to oppressiveness."
USA Today's Claudia Puig labels the new "Recall" "soulless, bombastic and numbingly repetitive" as well as "easy to forget within a few hours of watching." On the one hand, "Farrell is a serviceable action hero" (if a bit too wide-eyed), "the production design is a highlight," and "the film's first third draws us in with an intriguing setup." Unfortunately, the rest of the film "doesn't deliver on its promise," and the result is "humorless" and "hectic" -- "another remake that didn't need to be made."
Not every critic finds the film a dud, though. Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, for example, writes that "This 'Total Recall' offers clean, athletic performances from a troika of indubitably attractive B-plus stars [Farrell, Beckinsale and Biel]," and for a summer movie, it's "a doggone good time, with a bunch of nifty technical and visual flourishes, competently managed plot twists and elegant, Wachowski-esque action choreography." Even so, he admits that all the action does eventually become "deadening," and the film doesn't compare to Paul Verhoeven's original "on a thematic or imaginative or philosophical level."
Some things, it seems, are best left as memories.
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