By MICHAEL WALTERS
In the immortal words of Bill Murray in “Scrooged,” “Oh my gosh, did that suck.”
“Total Recall” doesn’t succeed on its own terms, and it doesn’t succeed as a remake. It doesn’t even succeed as an air conditioner movie; something you’d be willing to sit through just to get out of the heat. It’s a blockbuster with all the ideas pummeled out of it. Everyone’s going through the motions with only the vaguest of notions of how to tell an engaging story.
And it’s not like they didn’t have good source material to work with. Based on a short story by noted sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, “Total Recall” offers all sorts of tantalizing tangents about the brain and the nature of memories, which this remake completely ignores. The story line is essentially the same, with Colin Farrell taking over for Arnold Schwarzenegger as a factory worker haunted by dreams of secret agents. Kate Beckinsale steps in for Sharon Stone as his impossibly hot wife. He goes to a place called Rekal, which offers to give you the memory of a vacation without the hassles of the real thing. And in the middle of the procedure his dream becomes his reality.
While there are a couple of in-jokes for fans of the original film, it’s important to note THIS REMAKE DOES NOT TAKE PLACE ON MARS. Instead, we get a post-apocalyptic earth ravaged by chemical warfare and a scuzzier overcrowded skyscraper milieu stolen from “Blade Runner.” The earth’s inhabitants have been forced into only two inhabitable places left on earth, the United Federation Of Britain (Europe) has all the money and power, and the Colony (modern Australia) has all the grunt workers and everything else. In light of the new story, several nods to the original don’t even make sense. It’s not surprising to find a three-breasted Martian in a colony of mutants, but a three-breasted woman walking the streets of earth demands explanation.
While Farrell is largely a victim of his situation here, he doesn’t do anything to add his own spin on the character. Kate Beckinsale is no Sharon Stone, and in this rarest of instances that’s a good thing. And the less said about Jessica Biel the better.
Director Len Wiseman, responsible for the ludicrous “Live Free or Die Hard” and a few “Underworld” movies, has certainly seen what a good blockbuster looks like. But he’s been unable to create one on his own. He fumbles most every scene he gets his hands on. Early scenes have a perfunctory element to them. And when it comes to action He seems to think scenes involving characters running in slow motion and jumping just as the ground falls away beneath their feet are all it takes to entertain audiences these days. There’s no sense of pacing, no direction, just people running from here to there running out the clock until the credits roll.