[Screen It]


(2012) (Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale) (PG-13)

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Sci-Fi: After having a memory implanted in his head, an ordinary man tries to figure out what's going on and who he really is when everyone starts treating him like a secret agent with the desire of capturing or killing him.
After global chemical warfare has ravaged Earth in the future, only two inhabited pieces of land exist -- The United Federation of Britain and The Colony (formerly Australia) -- and the two are connected by a high speed transit tunnel that travels back and forth through the center of the Earth. One of the people who routinely takes that is Doug Quaid (COLIN FARRELL), an ordinary man married to a beautiful security agent, Lori (KATE BECKINSALE). While she's often called to respond to bombings reportedly caused by the Resistance and their leader, Matthias (BILL NIGHY), who want to overthrow the rule of Chancellor Cohaagen (BRYAN CRANSTON), Doug and coworker Harry (BOKEEM WOODBINE) work assembling police officer robots on a factory line.

Disenchanted by his current life and fueled by repetitive dreams filled with excitement and danger, Doug decides to visit a company called Rekall and have the memory of being a secret agent implanted into his head. But things go awry and the workers there believe he's already a secret agent just as police officers storm the place. Surprised by his sudden fighting prowess, Doug soon comes to learn that others, including Lori, believe him to be a real life secret agent and want what's inside his head.

From that point on, and with the aid of Melina (JESSICA BIEL), Doug goes on the run and tries to figure out what's going on and whether this is the truth, or just part of the memory that was implanted into his head.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Memories are funny things. While there's a scientific explanation for how and why they occur, there's still a certain mystery about them. That's especially true for those who don't possess photographic versions of them and thus can't always be sure that what they remember is what really happened. And that's because both the passing of time as well as our ability to think about such memories (and thus introduce the possibility of remembering some things incorrectly and then turning that into the original memory) ends up altering them to one degree or another.

Accordingly, if you don't possess photographic memory, how can you be sure that your memories are original and not some altered version? That was part of the fun of Philip K. Dick's short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale," published back in the 1960s. While few but the diehard sci-fi aficionados will recognize that, more will likely remember the original big screen adaptation of it, 1990's "Total Recall."

That film -- helmed by Paul Verhoeven -- used some of Dick's wild and imaginative sci-fi tale, but otherwise turned the material into a bloody, violent and occasionally somewhat campy Arnold Schwarzenegger flick. Now, apparently hoping that filmgoers remember the title but have forgotten the rest of the film, the studio powers that be are releasing a brand new version of the tale, still sporting the same title.

As directed by Len Wiseman from a script by screenwriters Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback, it maintains the same basic plot gist as its predecessor. An ordinary guy (Colin Farrell) of the future goes to a company that implants memories (to speed up getting them into one's head without actually participating in the real thing) only to have things go wrong when he picks the secret agent story and soon finds everyone believes he's really that.

The only problem is that he can't be sure what's playing out is the implanted memory or the real thing. Oh, and that a bunch of people (including his wife played by Kate Beckinsale) want to capture and/or kill him because of who he is and what's inside his head.

Wiseman -- who previously directed Beckinsale, his wife, in all of those "Underworld" flicks -- obviously knows his way around staging fight and action scenes, and this film is filled with a substantial amount of them, some of them elaborate and imaginative in scope and design. In fact, this is easily his best (and presumably most expensive) film in that regard, with lots of thrills, stunts and special effects to go around (a scene where various characters must avoid elevators that crisscross and travel in three dimensions rather than just straight up and down is particularly fun).

As was the case with the original, however, a little of that goes a long way, and some of the action ends up getting a bit repetitive. I also wish the filmmakers had played more with the notion that what's occurring may or may not be real. Just like in Verhoeven's version, there's a scene that does just that where Bokeem Woodbine's character tries to convince Farrell's that what he's currently experiencing is occurring only in his head from the implanted memory and that he's really seated back in one of Rekall's chairs.

While the outcome of that is pretty much a given for those who remember the original, I think the film would have been more interesting and fun had additional scenes of a similar nature been added to the mix. Similarly, there's little to no humor to break up the action, something Verhoeven and the lead actor threw into the original (in typical Schwarzenegger fashion).

But Ferrell and company are pretty much playing everything straight here and that takes away some of the fun. Beckinsale is as fetching as ever (taking over the role originated by Sharon Stone -- with a great deal more screen time considering how things played out the first time - and mixing that with the part Michael Ironside inhabited). Jessica Biel shows up to add more good looks to the fight scenes, while Bryan Cranston and especially Billy Nighy are, for the most part, wasted in their respective roles as the opposing leaders.

On the flip side, there are some occasional nods to the original, including an update of a fake identity to get through security scene that fans of the first film will enjoy. Not surprisingly, the various special effects are bigger and better this time around, even if the plot never takes anyone to the red planet like before.

Decent enough as an action pic but sorely needing some Schwarzenegger "magic" and a greater use of the sci-fi concept, this new version of "Total Recall" isn't anywhere brilliant enough to make you forget the original, but it's entertaining enough in its own right to warrant a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 30, 2012 / Posted August 3, 2012

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