I have never been much interested in Arnold Schwarzenegger's filmography. I recently saw the original "Total Recall," and to my complete surprise, despite Schwarzenegger's cold acting and pre-millennia visual effects, I liked it.
In the new "Total Recall," made more than 20 years after the original, the special effects have been bulked up -- a much-needed improvement. But I find myself shocked saying this, I kind of miss Mr. Schwarzenegger.
Colin Farrell is his replacement, clearly a more capable actor. The story involves a man who realizes that everything he knows about his life is a figment of his imagination. His perception of his life is all the product of a chip that has been implanted into his head. What Schwarzenegger lacks in emotional presence, he makes up for in physical charisma. Farrell is the opposite. And unfortunately in the case of this pure adrenaline rush, we need more of the former.
The plot comes from a story written by Philip K. Dick. On paper it reminds me a lot of the storyline for "Memento," an early film by Christopher Nolan that travels back in time with a man who can't form new memories and is in a permanent state of starting over. The 1990 version, directed by Paul Verhoeven, feels more like that, emotional, distraught, completely desperate.
And although 20 years later these ideas of an apocalyptic future of man and machine feels more real than ever, director Len Wiseman doesn't take advantage of those emotions. The screen fills our heads with chases, shoot-outs, hand-to-hand fighting; this is adventure at its purist, where one action sequence blends into the next. The special effects are pretty spectacular, especially in the extreme detail of its metropolis.
What we are missing completely is a human element. Wiseman's film feels less like his own picture and more a cracked out mash-up of all his favorite action films, video games and comics. There is one scene in particular with Farrell and Jessica Biel where all I can see is the chase scene in "Minority Report," where Tom Cruise scaled cars that moved vertically up buildings.
Dick wrote stories that were turned into a dozen Hollywood films because his writing is filled with ideas and creativity.
As pure escapism, "Total Recall" functions, although ironically going against its own commentary about mind control.