IRONICALLY for a film that depends on memory implants, the best way to enjoy Len Wiseman’s Total Recall is by forgetting you ever saw Arnold Schwarzenegger half-dressed as a woman in a fat suit, or booming “Consider Dis a Divorce” in Paul Verhoeven’s big, bombastic but slyly subversive original 1990 movie.
Director: Len Wiseman
Running time: 118 minutes
This time round, it’s Colin Farrell, caterpillar eyebrows knitted in puzzlement, who plays Doug Quaid, a blue collar worker living in one of the two remaining habitable spots on earth, both set-dressed by Bladerunner and weather-dressed by Fort William. The Haves live in the Federation of Britain, while the Have Nots are in the Colony (Australia), and workers shuttle between the two places in a contraption called The Fall, which takes 17 minutes to commute 10,000 miles via the centre of the earth, which may strike you as the most fanciful piece of science fiction ever conjured in movies, given that Edinburgh has spent four years on 12 miles of overground track and still hasn’t reached the terminus.
Bored by the daily grind of fixing robot stormtroopers, Quaid visits Rekall, a company supplying implants that give the recipient exciting fake memories. The procedure unleashes a startling suppressed truth; the reason Quaid fantasises about being a secret agent is because he was one. This leads to another discovery; his gorgeous wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) is an assassin with instructions to kill Quaid if he starts recalling his past. “I give good wife,” she mocks.
Farrell is fine at looking harried as his problems ratchet up like levels on a video game – although, like Arnie, those sculpted abs suggest Quaid has got the only home gym on the planet. Really, however, the cast are little more than plotbots, moving the story along. Bryan Cranston is the planet’s ruthless totalitarian leader, in a blond hairpiece that would make Donald Trump swoon in envy.
Jessica Biel offers up a badass Resistance fighter and Bill Nighy pops by for a few scenes as Mathias, who is leading the rebels, all against a backdrop that recklessly reminds you of other, better science-fiction films from Metropolis to Minority Report.
This is Total Recall written by someone who once overheard two teenage boys discussing Arnold Schwarzenegger; the film does retain some key moments from the original – rest easy if you have specialist tastes, the three-boobed woman is still in there – but there are no disfigured aliens, no exploding heads and they don’t even go to Mars. This wouldn’t be a problem if Wiseman had come up with new, better twists but this Recall is not as inventive, satirical or 18-certificate as its predecessor.
There’s some neat gadgetry, including a transmitter that turns hands into phones, and a small political joke about currency featuring President Obama, but however much you groaned at Arnie’s puns the first time round, at least you felt Verhoeven was in cahoots with his audience and we were both having schlocky fun.
Wiseman, an efficient technician who thinks irony is for crumpled clothes, delivers a much simpler pleasure at greater length. The end result is serviceably slick but soulless, alternating between hyperactivity – repetitive martial arts and endless hovercar chases – and a dutiful narrative plod. Total Recall? There’s no reason to remember this.
• On general release from Wednesday