Philip K. Dick, the man who wrote 44 novels and over a hundred short stories, many of which have been adapted into movies (“The Adjustment Bureau,” “Minority Report,” “Blade Runner,” among others) comes to the screen again. His science fiction stories envisioned a future dominated by authoritarian governments and imperialistic capiltalists and questioned the perception of metaphysical reality. All three of these play prominent roles in his latest film, “Total Recall,” directed by Len Wiseman.
The post-apocalyptic future world is all but destroyed, leaving the United Federation of Great Britain and The Colony (a.k.a. Australia) as the only habitable spots on the planet. Colonist Doug Quaid, an assembly line worker, dreams of something more, but it’s just not available. He visits a sleezy outfit called Rekall, that will implant exciting memories into his brain. He fantasizes of being a spy—and suddenly that fantasy comes to life. It seems his humdrum life is itself an implanted memory and he really is a spy, working for and against the government as the Colony struggles for independence from the Federation.
“Total Recall” is a remake of a 1990 movie by the same name. The new film focuses entirely on nonstop action sequences and exhilarating special effects, leaving no room for plot or character development. Every scene is visually awesome but logically inexplicable, and the technology on screen (and behind the scenes), while incredible in its own right, exists merely as a backdrop for action sequences. The new film’s script is puerile: really more like a badly premised videogame than a carefully thought-out story. Most importantly, the element of whimsy that is essential to movie enjoyment is missing. The screenplay for the original movie, while wildly improbable, conveyed fun, with terrific throw-away lines, interesting relational development between characters, and even entertaining supporting characters the audience could root for or against, as it winked at the audience. The new film has minimal dialogue, no relationships or character development at all, no real supporting characters, and takes itself very seriously.
Colin Ferrell (“Fright Night”) plays Doug as an indefatigable man doing a superhuman job. I hesitate to say it but Arnold Schwarzenegger in the original film was more emotive, more engaging, and even more believable than Mr. Ferrell.
Kate Beckinsale (“Underworld”) portrays Doug’s “wife” Lori, who is really a government agent whose job it is to monitor Doug. The script leaves her no dialogue that allows for character development, just plenty of martial arts and grim expressions. In the original, this role was given to Sharon Stone, who was given the opportunity to act, some witty dialogue, and even a romantic interest in another agent.
Jessica Biel (“New Year’s Eve”) is Melina, Doug’s rebel girlfriend. Again, she is given no dialogue worth remembering and no chance to develop a relationship with Doug. Rachel Ticotin played Melina in the first film with a wicked edge and a droll sense of humor. The audience was able to see why Doug was attracted to her in the first place, an element completely missing in the new version.
Supporting roles by Bryan Cranston (TV’s “Breaking Bad”) as Cohaagon, the power-mad Chancellor in charge of the government, Bokeem Woodbine (“Devil”) as Doug’s work colleague Harry, John Cho (“Star Trek”) as Rekall’s fast-talking salesman, and Bill Nighy (“Love Actually”) as the enigmatic resistance leader Matthias, all outstanding actors, could all be played by animatronic mannequins for all the life the script injects into them.
“Total Recall” is a remake that is characterized by phenomenal special effects and exciting action sequences wrapped around an implausible, soulless, and humorless story. That about sums up the movie—and what’s happened to Hollywood.