Beckinsale is Lori, the mild-mannered-wife-turned-ruthless-government-agent in this updated, CGi-heavy version of the 1990 film of the same name, and both are based on a short story by Philip K. Dick. Lori is married to factory worker Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell), and they live quite happily in a dystopian society known as the Colony, in an age where chemical warfare has made most of Earth uninhabitable. When a frustrated Doug seeks to escape his dreary existence by having a few exciting “memories” implanted into his brain, all hell breaks loose. Suddenly, his identity is scrambled, Lori morphs into a Terminator-like assassin and Jessica Biel shows up as a comely resistance fighter who isn’t nearly as annoying or wooden as every other character Jessica Biel has ever played.
With fabulous art direction and set design, this version of Total Recall is heads and shoulders above its comparatively campier predecessor. Wiseman and his team have created a world that is dripping with detail and texture, at once thoroughly depressing and mind-blowingly awesome. But the filmmakers drop the engagement ball when it comes to building a rich and compelling story – instead, they fill the film with chase sequence after chase sequence so that, by the third or fourth one, you just kind of wish everyone would stop fleeing long enough to exchange dialogue more colorful than variations on “they’re right behind us!”
Farrell is fine but is outshone by both his female co-stars. No one can hold a candle to Beckinsale’s fierce and ferocious performance, which is by far the best thing about this film, but Biel – as ever – certainly does try. Total Recall actually marks the first time I’ve seen her in a movie and not found her woefully flat and unconvincing, and I think it might be due to the fact that she and Farrell have some nice, believable chemistry. I liked her here, go figure. There are some nice supporting turns, as well, most notably from Bryan Cranston as the loathsome Cohagen, and a bleached-blonde John Cho as the “Rekall” guru who sends Doug on this wild journey.
And that’s the thing – the audience, like Doug, never really knows what part of this journey real and what’s been implanted. Is Doug dreaming or is this really his life? Which version of him is the one that truly exists? Even by film’s end, many may be scratching their heads.
While Total Recall could probably have been about 15 minutes shorter and focused a little more on storytelling instead of fight choreography and digital-effects making, it was nonetheless a lot of fun. Despite its flaws, it was still a very entertaining summer distraction, it boasts some kick-ass work from its women, and it’s a remake that – in my opinion – outperforms Arnold Schwarzenegger’s attempt to tell this same tale.