Starring Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel. Written by Kurt Wimmer, Mark Bomback. Directed by Len Wiseman. 14A. 118 min. Opens Aug. 3.
Bloodless, sexless, humourless, pointless: One might say that less is definitely not more in the new Total Recall. Len Wiseman’s un-asked-for reboot drains all of the juice (and bodily fluids) from Paul Verhoeven’s barnstorming 1990 original, and if what’s left is a little more faithful to the Philip K. Dick’s short story on which it’s based (“We Can Remember it For You Wholesale”), it’s hardly a case of higher fidelity.
Dick’s singular genius as a writer was to infuse his tales with a palpable sense of paranoia, but Wiseman’s film is too propulsive to foreground its characters’ antsiness. There’s only a single shot—when the hero, Quaid (Colin Farrell), finds himself surrounded by dozens of tiny, blinking digital cameras—that’s worthy of Dick’s anxious aesthetic. Farrell is perfectly fine as the futuristic factory worker who tries to take a mental vacation courtesy of Rekall—a virtual-tourism company that downloads excitingly ersatz memories into its clients’ brains—and ends up literally living his secret-agent dream. But Quaid isn’t written as anything more than that: Consequently Farrell, a sly, witty actor, doesn’t get any good lines. And as the two women fighting over him, Jessica Biel (the bland good one) and Kate Beckinsale (the bland bad one) muster less star power between them than Sharon Stone managed in a single scene in the original.
Wiseman’s visual scheme flaunts its CGI wizardry, but the late-21st-century production design is too obviously cribbed from Blade Runner and Minority Report. Similarly, the action sequences are efficiently edited but mostly free of authentically weightless thrills (even a zero-gravity gunfight is predictable). What’s more, this movie about the fine art of memory wiping doesn’t feature a single lingering image or memorable line. As a late-summer thriller, Total Recall is mediocre; as a remake of an iconic blockbuster, it’s the equivalent of a Xerox spat out by a photocopier running low on ink.