Although very loosely based on a 1990 movie very loosely based on a Philip K. Dick short story, the latest version of "Total Recall" draws its key concepts from "Seinfeld."
The new movie is both a close-talker and a high-talker. Filled with ponderous close-ups and scenes framed too tight to convey a sense of what's happening, "Total Recall" is also loud and agitated, seldom pausing to take a breath.
This time, it's Colin Farrell attempting to fill Arnold Schwarzenegger's ego as the very un-self aware secret agent Doug Quaid. Tired of his worker's life, he visits a memory implant company to get a happy haze of adventures he could never afford in real life.
In Dick's clever story, "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale," one of Total Rekall's apparently regular customers is a man who may be a police agent, in which capacity he seems to have visited Mars, where he dimly remembers killing a man, perhaps with a weapon supplied by alien field mice, who could be scouts for an invasion of Earth. It's hard to know for sure.
The cheerfully, violently silly 1990 movie, directed by Paul Verhoeven with brutal cartoonish aplomb, catapulted Schwarzenegger's protagonist far from Dick's memory company, all the way to Mars and into a resistance struggle against the power structure. Along the way, he finds out his "wife" is an agent assigned to keep him on mission, and falls for a feisty resistance fighter.
The new script, credited to Mark Bomback, James Vanderbilt and Kurt Wimmer, keeps Rekall and the dueling beauties, but in a different setting. Now, the future is true nightmare, since the only remaining countries are a sort of Greater United Kingdom with lots of elevated highways, and a Singapore-esque Australia, where the neon signs are in Chinese and Russian, and it's always raining.
Of course, the latter is a nod to "Blade Runner," just like Britain's white vinyl storm troopers must be mercenaries decommissioned from the Imperial Storm Troopers of "Star Wars." One thing about this "Total Recall," it does remember better movies.
Farrell has been in some better movies, but this time out he only needs his leading-man looks: Irish, but with grease. As Quaid, Farrell is muscular enough without Schwarzenegger bloat. But while he maintains his movie-dude permanent stubble, Colin always manages to make it seem more like bad grooming than style.
His character may run and jump and punch and shoot better than his muscle-bound predecessor, but Farrell himself plods along glumly. Arnold always kept a smirk handy, along with a James Bond-style unpleasant pleasantry. Farrell seems as a beaten down as a stiff whose workday commute involves a subway through the center of the Earth, and who is not secretly a secret agent.
As a director, it's clear what Len Wiseman brings to the table: his lovely wife, Kate Beckinsale. He directed her in the first two "Underworld" movies and shared screenwriting credit on the third. If you have seen any of those movies, you probably are searching for a local Rekall outlet to have the memories wiped, except for the image of Kate in spandex.
The series has made money, which should be some consolation to Beckinsale, who previously was a charming and talented performer in films such as "Cold Comfort Farm," "Laurel Canyon," Kenneth Branagh's version of "Much Ado about Nothing" and even the thriller "Uncovered."
Many of her Hollywood choices have been less successful, including unnecessary implants — Wiseman may be Henry Higgins in reverse — plus similar subtraction by addition roles in "The Aviator," "Pearl Harbor" and "Van Helsing," all of which also should go unmentioned in polite company.
These days, Beckinsale is back to a reportedly natural figure, but whether she has maintained her acting chops is difficult to ascertain from what's on view here. Despite the Australo-British setting, most of the cast speak with American accents. In her favor, Beckinsale handles that as Doug's "wife" Lori, but goes back to British once her cover is blown. That's as much acting as "Total Recall" requires, what with all the gunfire, explosions and car crashes.