‘Total Recall’: fun, if forgettable

Courtesy of slate.com.

Courtesy of slate.com.

Don’t worry, it’s not a sequel; it’s a remake.

Courtesy of slate.com.

Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is not happy. He lives in the post-apocalyptic hereafter and commutes to his factory job everyday by traversing through the earth’s core. He and his wife (Kate Beckinsale) live a modest life in an always-rainy town that resembles something out of Blade Runner.

When Quaid hears about Rekall, a company which offers memories – “we remember it for you” – he wanders into the bad part of town to give it a whirl, much to the chagrin of his wife and co-workers. A botched procedure and a violent interruption put Quaid on the run, not knowing what’s real, what’s recall and who he is.

All of that sounds a little heavy for an action film that co-stars Jessical Biel. And it is. Total Recall’s biggest misstep is trying to juggle the sci-fi philosophy of Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” and enough CGI action to make it an appealing summer blockbuster. As a result, the gravity of the film becomes muddled and a bit pretentious, but it’s a fun ride.

For the most part, Recall looks really good. The detail of the city is impressive, even if a bit repetitive and uninspired. Recall is a chase film, with lots of running and car pursuits. Most of these are exciting and employ some cool set pieces. If it sounds like I’m grasping here, it’s because I am.

Total Recall is not a bad film, but not really a justifiable one either. While I haven’t seen the original and thus cannot compare them, I cannot image the 2012 version kicking around 22 years from now. It missed opportunities to be campy and clever. Like most contemporary summer blockbusters (that means you, Mr. Nolan), Recall takes itself much too seriously. As a result, character actors like Bill Nighy and Bryan Cranston seem wasted and misplaced. It feels like director Len Wiseman would not let them have much fun with the material, so they mostly phoned this one in.

Similarly, Farrell can handle comedic material. Horrible Bosses aside, his work in In Bruges was very, very funny. Recall would have benefited with a little levity. A few one-liners and a bit of self-awareness would have relieved it of having to make sense of all that philosophical babble.

As an action film, Recall is fun, turn-your-brain-off popcorn fare, but, perhaps fittingly, you will forget it almost immediately after leaving the theatre.