It's ironic to the point of hilarity that a movie with identity as its core plot device fails to develop one of its own.
What's frustrating is that “Total Recall” is one of those movies that absolutely could benefit from an alternate take. The Paul Verhoeven original (with Arnold Schwarzenegger at his most one-liner indulgent) is far from sacred ground as far as I'm concerned (it's not without its charms, but it's a cheap looking film that lacks most of the schlocky charm it attempts to project) and a smart approach that hews more closely to author Philip K. Dick's original story would be welcome.
Wiseman's film is most certainly not that.
I'll give it this much credit: Colin Farrell feels much more natural in the role of Quaid than Schwarzenegger ever did. Quaid is supposed to be an everyman, a regular joe who is shocked when he finds out he's got the skills and prowess of a super spy. Satirical as Verhoeven's intent might have been, casting Arnie in that part just deflates your entire movie. It just comes off as silly, which is really the perfect descriptor for Verhoeven's film altogether.
Farrell might still be a little more in an “action guy” mold than is preferable (even though he's really only been in a small number of films that could even be qualified as “action”) but he fits the part well, constantly trying to understand how he's been thrust into a situation that has him running for his life as the government and even his wife are out to try and kill him.
Beyond that, Wiseman's “Recall” feels content to rip off as many other (better) sci-fi films as might be possible within its runtime. “Blade Runner,” “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” “Minority Report,” heck it even lifts lines and some kills directly from Verhoeven's film. It's sort of incredible that even though Wiseman blatantly lifts from these films (seriously, you're going to try and create a rundown, neon-lit, vertically-structured rainy dystopia and try to pass it off as original?) it still never takes on even a fraction of the spark or personality that those films had.
Wiseman, however, simply hopes that you won't have the time to notice as he paces his film with the energy of a 6-year-old on a four-day Pixie Stix bender. Pretty much from the moment Quaid gets strapped into the chair at Rekall to have super spy memories implanted, the movie doesn't really take a break.
Also, I'm not sure there's a director other than Wiseman who knows better how to waste great actors. How do you cast guys like Bryan Cranston and Bill Nighy and then give them almost nothing to do? Cranston at least gets to snarl a bit and has a fight scene with Farrell. Nighy literally just steps out of the shadows, says a few lines and then that's pretty much it.
There' not much else really to say about this “Recall” remake, so I'm going to spend the last few lines of this review extolling the virtues of Colin Farrell. People seem to love to either rag on or dismiss the guy, but I think he's made a pretty interesting career for himself.
He was suddenly declared to be the new “It Guy” after wowing audiences in “Tigerland,” but a string of flops quickly sullied his Hollywood prowess. Most of his recent projects show that he's not really interested in Hollywood superstardom. It's a good fit as he's got far better chops than most seem willing to acknowledge.
Looking at the majority of his recent projects, “Total Recall” mostly comes off as a paycheck gig. Here's hoping this gives him the freedom to do more of what he wants as it's one of the most forgettable films to come through theaters in a while.