updated 08/03/2012 AT 1:00 PM ET
•originally published 08/03/2012 AT 2:00 PM ET
There are reboots and there are remakes. The difference is subtle – and probably entirely semantic – but key. Reboots give beloved franchises new energy. (Think: Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.) Remakes are ill-conceived, often cynical attempts to cash in on a film that worked before.
Total Recall is a remake.
Instead of a fun, wild trip to Mars, like in the 1990 original starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, this Recall – starring Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel – is set right here on Earth – though a dystopian version that’s left much of the planet uninhabitable after world wars. What remains are the upper class United Federation of Britain and the depressing, rainy, blue-collar Colony (a.k.a. Australia).
The worker bees of The Colony get to their jobs in the UFB via a giant shuttle called the Fall, which transports them in a matter of minutes through the Earth’s core. (You don’t need much beyond a third-grade science education to know why that’s problematic.)
Doug Quaid (Farrell) is one of those drones. Deeply unsatisfied with his assembly-line job, he visits a little pleasure palace known as Rekall that plants fantasy memories in customers’ heads. You know how this turns out: Before Doug can get his fantasy on, armed robo-cops bust in, thrusting him into a nightmare.
Doug’s entire identity, it turns out, is a lie. His wife, Lori (Beckinsale) tries to kill him, and Melina, a woman he’s only seen in dreams (Biel), shows up to save him. As if that weren’t enough, he’s somehow ticked off the head of the UFB, Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston).
The film looks amazing, with terrific set design and effects. The plot, though, is illogical, with Cohaagen hatching an evil plan that doesn’t even make sense on paper. Worse, Total Recall isn’t much fun – a cardinal sin for big-budget popcorn movies that bow between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
What makes this remake such a bitter pill is that I desperately want Farrell to have the career he deserves. He’s fantastic, even in little movies that aren’t as good as he is. (Horrible Bosses, Fright Night, and The Way Back are just some of the most recent examples.) He’s inarguably a better actor than Schwarzenegger, but – real or imagined – memories of Arnold’s Recall are much sweeter.