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Total Recall

In the two decades since Total Recall, the theme of unreliable memory has sparked any number of other films, most of them more ambitious and rather better: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Memento, The Matrix, Inception, Shutter Island, The Truman Show, etc. Not that the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle set a very high bar. The Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” had been a Hollywood property for years, with David Cronenberg the most notable of a series of filmmakers who worked on adapting its premise of an ordinary man who pays for an implanted memory of being a secret agent on Mars, only to find out that he was just that before his memory was erased. Instead, Arnold got on board and brought in Paul Verhoeven to go gonzo on an over-the-top action spectacular.

Anyone hoping that this new version would appeal to an audience whose imaginations have been sharpened by the aforementioned movies is going to be disappointed. Aside from some cosmetic changes, this is even less imaginative than Verhoeven’s film, about what you might expect from British director Len Wiseman, creator of the endless Underworld franchise.

In the lead role, Colin Farrell is unquestionably a better actor than Schwarzeneger, but who goes to see a movie like this for the acting? The location has been moved from Mars to a dystopian future Earth where a chemical war has left only Great Britain and Australia inhabitable. Farrell’s fate is tied into a plot to seize control of the world by Bryan Cranston as one of those ridiculously hands-on villains who used to populate James Bond movies.

Heavily and obviously influenced by the look of Blade Runner (the rain never seems to stop), Total Recall features spectacular scenes of futuristic cityscapes. Like most special effects, they lose their novelty after a few reels. Still, they’re more interesting than the plot, which makes little use of the idea that our hero may only be dreaming so that Wiseman can focus on endless chase and battle scenes. It culminates in an overwrought finale that makes little sense but features lots of stuff blowing up.

(To answer the question that is foremost on the minds of those who saw the 1990 film when they were teenaged boys: Yes, the lady with one extra makes an appearance.)

Watch the trailer for Total Recall

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