Silver Screen: Total Recall **1/2
As goofy as a Bourne movie without Bourne sounds, it's a million-dollar idea compared to the baffling notion of remaking Total Recall.
The original was a perfect intersection of smart, stupid, and awesome: Take one of Philip K. Dick's most paranoid sci-fi stories, inject it with the insanity of director Paul Verhoeven, and cast it with perhaps the greatest action star of all time at the peak of his abilities. The resulting film may not match the stylish, cerebral trendsetter Blade Runner, achieve the satirical heights of Verhoeven's Robocop or Starship Troopers, and it's not as viscerally rousing as Arnold Schwarzenegger's best collaborations with James Cameron, but it's a memorable mashup of highbrow and lowbrow (and even lowerbrow).
The original Total Recall is a twenty-two-year-old minor classic that falls into uncomfortable territory for a remake: Too old to be a viable enticement to the young kids, with their texts and their Twitter and their iPodcasting, but too fresh in the minds and DVD collections of anyone who would fondly remember it.
The first half of the remake closely follows the original, down to the dialogue of our hero's duplicitous wife, played in the original by Sharon Stone and here by Kate Beckinsale. Bored blue-collar schlub Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is having a midlife crisis in a dystopian future, which is a real double-whammy. Too broke to afford time off from his factory job, he goes to Rekall, a mind-altering service that provides clients with a full week's worth of memories with no limits. Quaid opts for a vacation of the mind as a spy, but just as the memory implanting begins a group of soldiers burst through the door and shoot up the place. Quaid responds with surprising savagery, but he's left with the movie's essential question: Has something gone wrong with the memory implantation and plunged him into psychotic fantasy, or has the procedure uncovered a real identity that someone wanted him to forget?
This take on Total Recall doesn't dwell too much, not nearly enough, on Quaid's insanity dilemma. There's no paranoid questioning of the self, as in so many of Dick's great stories, just more focus on the nifty gadgets and slick technology of the future.
The altered script's biggest innovation is scrapping the original Mars colonization plot for an earthbound colony of workers slaving to support the state, and adding a wildly improbable yet still kind of cool method of travel between the two. The plots increasingly diverge as they move along, yet all the principals are still there in both versions: the hot-chick sidekick (Jessica Biel), the villainous industrialist Cohagen (a delightfully evil Bryan Cranston), the mysterious insurgency leader (Bill Nighy). Alas, the Verhoeven weirdness is absent, the violence and darkly comic touches stripped away in the PG-13 streamlining, so no exploding heads, no mutants, no Kuato. A fleet of bloodless automatic police officers for Farrell to mow down is no replacement for the original's bizarre adornments.
Director Len Wiseman makes pretty movies, and he gives his Recall a distinct aesthetic. While it lacks the soul (or at least the viscera) of the original, it's got a more commercial style all its own. Taken out of context, it's an unmemorable but passable sci-fi summer exercise, better than average to be sure. But that does precious little to justify its existence.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.