The literary legacy of the late science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick comes to the big screen again this summer via Total Recall, the second movie adaptation of his short story, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.”
The list of films adapted from Dick’s short stories or novels include Blade Runner, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, Screamers and The Adjustment Bureau. More are on the way.
Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in 1990’s Total Recall, a hit that contains the action and futuristic fantasy expected of a Schwarzenegger project and the ideas that Dick originally implanted in his story about memory and identity.
The new Total Recall casts Irish actor Colin Farrell and English actress Kate Beckinsale, star of the action-filled Underworld series of vampire movies, in roles originally played by the former California governor and Sharon Stone.
The movie also boosts the action and computer-generated imagery. There are few quieter scenes of genuine intimacy, but Total Recall 2012 is largely about non-stop action, including hover car chases through the elevated byways of the 21st century’s United Federation of Britain, aka the UFB, and frantic foot pursuits in The Colony, an impoverished, overpopulated wet place formerly known as Australia.
Because chemical warfare poisoned much of the Earth, the UFB and The Colony are the only inhabitable land masses.
Following the superhero-filled hits The Amazing Spider-Man, The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, Total Recall fits the summer movie season bill as a non-thoughtful, non-challenging but visually crowded rush of adrenaline-fueled, sci-fi-action distraction.
Despite its abundant rushing around and weapons fire, Total Recall fails to build much suspense, not even when it hurtles to its fiery climax.
From a non-action vantage, the movie is most interesting when its protagonist has a mystery to solve.
Farrell’s Douglas Quaid is an average factory worker who lives in The Colony with his beautiful wife, Lori. Quaid commutes daily by way of The Fall, the massive elevator that hurls him and other commuters through the earth to the UFB on the other side of the world.
Quaid works on an assembly line that builds the UFB’s synthetic soldiers. These warrior robots, in appearance, numbers and demeanor, resemble the hordes of stormtroopers seen in the Star Wars movies.
His wife and a supportive pal from work, Harry (Bokeem Woodbine), can’t calm restless malcontent Quaid. Traumatized by a violent recurring dream and sensing there must be more to life than his dreary factory worker existence, Quaid visits the Rekall Lounge, a business that promises to give its customers the memories they wish they had.
“This is a safe place,” he’s told as he takes the Rekall plunge.
The Rekall Lounge session turns into a violent nightmare when security forces storm the business and kill the Rekall staff. Quaid, using skills he didn’t know he had, fights the security squad and escapes into the teaming Colony.
In the midst of evading and battling security forces, Quaid must figure out why he’s being chased and who he really is. But Total Recall devotes most of its resources the UFB’s massively armed pursuit of Quaid and Melina (Jessica Biel), the ally who suddenly drops into his life behind the wheel of a hover car.
A frenetic hover car chase and shoot out and an elevator pursuit staged with choreographed complexity are among the film’s highlights. Too often, though, the story’s foundational ideas serve as excuses for long, excessive action sequences that ultimately lose their capacity to thrill.
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