Colin Farrell doesn’t have a shot at living up to Ah-nuld in this regrettable remake
- Last Updated: 12:06 PM, August 3, 2012
- Posted: 10:10 PM, August 2, 2012
Total rerun. Running time: 118 minutes. Rated PG-13 (action violence, nudity, sexual content, profanity). At the Empire, the Union Square, the Kips Bay, others.
Memo to “Total Recall” villains: Less speaking, more slaying, OK? Why punch somebody with a fist that’s holding a gun? When deploying a stick-on grenade, don’t leave so much time on the clock that your victims have time for dinner and a show. And, please, you robo-soldiers providing backup? You’ve got the most permeable battle wear since the Ewoks killed all those storm troopers with their flying toothpicks. What is your armor made of? Chinet?
The original Arnold Schwarzenegger movie was perfection — a moonbeam James Bond better than any actual James Bond movie. The central pleasure of the movie was its twists, and as the same twists got rolled out in the remake, I kept thinking: “Yes, that was surprising to me in 1990.”
This time, the ordinary-guy worker Doug Quaid is played by a baffled-looking Colin Farrell — his first big-budget leading role in six years. All his previous efforts flopped, suggesting some studio chieftain had his memory bank wiped.
Quaid is an assembly-line drone from “the Colony” — Australia. This is one of two areas on late-21st-century Earth that didn’t get smoked by chemical warfare, the other being “the United Federation of Britain.” The cool Mars angle from the original movie? Gone. Instead, we’re in a retro future remembered wholesale from “Blade Runner” — architectural charm of East Berlin, tranquility of Hong Kong, rain like a planet weeping for itself. The effect is junkyard dazzling, or would be if we hadn’t seen it before.
Quaid, in a bid to spice up his drab life, visits Rekall, an outfit that implants fake memories in those who can’t afford the real thing. He asks for the secret-agent package and everything goes haywire because he really is a secret agent. His memory jogged by a resistance fighter (Jessica Biel), he goes to war with the oppressive ruling regime.
In Paul Verhoeven’s R-rated original, there was a crazy sense of humor and a crazier sense that anything could happen — a three-breasted hooker, Schwarzie ramming a gadget the size of a dumbbell up his nose to clear a tracking device, Mars’ atmosphere making heads explode. You could believe it all, except maybe that Sharon Stone could be anyone’s hausfrau.
This time, though, the surplus-mammary chick seems as desperate as a YouTube exhibitionist. And once you note that Kate Beckinsale plays the Stone role, you know what’s going to happen. Unlike Stone, Beckinsale vastly overstays her welcome, doing the same things again and again and effectively being the co-lead. Which is what you get when you’re married to the director (Len Wiseman, a hack who previously was safely confined to those dreary “Underworld” movies).
Wiseman is a shootouts-and-fireballs man, the kind of guy born to do 30-second effects-heavy commercials. He’s bewildered, or maybe just bored, when the to-do list contains items called “story” and “character” and “dialogue.” (The only attempts at humor are a few grim wife jokes.) Wiseman’s main idea is this: Dozens of dispensable henchmen surround the hero. He elbows someone in the face, grabs a gun, blammo blammo and suddenly everybody’s improbably dead. Or someone poses as someone else, there’s some light badinage and, just when suspicion is creeping in, here comes the hopelessly too-late assassination attempt. Or someone very slowly sprays an arc of gunfire around the space, so slowly that nonsubsidiary figures can run out of harm’s way as those Chinet soldiers fall by the score.
There is plenty in the way of fun gadgets (such as phones implanted in hands) and chase-scene chaos to keep things moving, but as involved as all the action is, it isn’t involving. Elevators whoosh horizontally as well as vertically. Hovercars zoom and crash. But where is the heart?
When we think we’re going to get an answer, Bill Nighy pops up as the leader of the resistance. He’s been mentioned in half a dozen scenes, so we know he’s important. But all he does is expel half a page of gibberish that sounds like the lyric sheet to a 1975 progressive rock album before he’s forgotten. Why even bother with this character?
As for a villain, you could do worse than Bryan Cranston as the evil political overlord who is trying to stamp out the resistance. But here’s the thing about evil political overlords: They don’t do fistfights. They’re too busy ruling the world. When he goes mano a mano with Farrell, it’s not spine-tingling. It’s embarrassing, like watching a dude beat up his dad.