In Les Wiseman’s remake of the Arnold Schwarzeneggar "classic" "Total Recall," there are no Arnold-challenged one-liners to make you chuckle amongst the thrills. Instead, the story by Philip K. Dick is re-imagined as a dead serious "Blade Runner"-esque futuristic take on the story about a vaguely depressed assembly worker named Quaid (Colin Farrell) who goes to a place called "Rekall" to have more exciting memories injected into his mind so he’ll feel as though his life is more exciting than it is. However, once he is strapped into a chair, a scan is run on his system to make sure there are no secrets he’s hiding that could mess up whatever memories they are implanting. (You can’t wish for the memory of an affair if you’re already having one, for example.)
So when he wishes to be a Double Secret Agent and before the process can even begin, the scan discovers that he really is one and all hell breaks loose. This involves doublecrosses by people he thought he loved and trusted including his wife (Kate Beckinsale) and the arrival of a hot resistance fighter literally from his dreams played by Jessica Biel.
You see, the world has been messed up due to chemical warfare and there are only two habitable places on Earth, Great Britain and The Colony (formerly Australia.) The two domains are connected by an elaborate transportation system known as "The Fall" which runs through the center of the earth. For many, The Fall is considered a symbol of repression (for some muddy reasons) and the Resistance wants to stop The Fall before the Chancellor of the new Great Britain wipes out The Colony in order to populate it with his own people. Meanwhile there are a variety of other characters with different ranking positions that serve to confuse matters.
Once the aforementioned hell breaks loose, Quaid goes on the run to find out who he really is, determine if this is all a part of Rekall or reality, and discover something about "a key."This takes him through the city in chase sequences over rooftops, on magnetic hover cars, and in the most inventive sequence, a staggeringly large apartment complex’s massive network of elevator cars that run both vertical and horizontal. There’s also a neat bit within The Fall when it passes through the Earth’s core and gravity reverses itself causing a good minute of anti-gravity.
As you can tell, "Total Recall" is a fairly inventive and nifty little thriller that is heavy on special effects and production design - enough to wow discerning audiences. There are plenty of nods to the original although thankfully the Mars angle was left on the cutting room floor. The drawback is an overly convoluted plot that gets so cumbersome it’s easy to tune out when characters start trying to explain what’s going on.
The pacing in the first act is a bit off making the plot struggle a bit to get moving. Farrell looks appropriately fit but confused as the man pulled into a life he didn’t know he had, but he is directed to play it so seriously that he forgot to have fun. Somewhere between Arnold’s take and Colin’s is where this characterization should have rested. Instead, it plays it dour and dangerous which can sometimes create unwanted giggles. It’s not Farrell’s fault as this is the style of the film. But after the lethal weightiness of "The Dark Knight Rises," this overly solemn and urgent take could have used a quip or two. Otherwise it’s harmless fun filled with enough visual eye-candy to dazzle the senses and easily pass a few hours.