Colin Farrell is becoming the go-to guy for unnecessary remakes.
Farrell, cool on the heels of the forgettable “Fright Night,” steps in for Ah-nold in the new “Total Recall.” The original “Recall” is far from a classic. The production values leaned on the cheese factor, and any film starring Schwarzenegger could always use an acting reboot.
The new “Recall” keeps the basic story beats intact, but it simply isn’t much fun. Yes, we do see another triple-breasted woman, but the Schwarzenegger model had a lightness to it that blended beautifully with the dark themes of memory implantation and identity confusion.
The new film is set once more in the future, a time when chemical warfare has rendered most of the Earth inhospitable. No, Mars isn’t a major factor hear, robbing us of one of Schwarzenegger’s better lines.
The war’s fallout leaves two land masses, one essentially England on steroids and the Colony, which supplies labor to the upper crust Brits. The class warfare rhetoric deployed by last year’s sci-fi dud “In Time” never really materializes.
“Recall” follows a blue-collar Colony drone named Doug (Farrell) who thinks he may be missing out on something in life. He’s gainfully employed, comes home each night to a gorgeous wife (Kate Beckinsale) but … shouldn’t there be more to his existence?
So when he sees an ad for Rekall, a company promising to implant life-altering memories in your synapses, he decides to give it a whirl.
The implantation session goes awry, and we learn Doug may not be who he thinks he is. In fact, his whole life may be a lie, and his blushing bride could be an agent out to kill him.
We just don’t know.
That’s the best part of both “Recall” films, the hazy identity issues revealed by the memory implantation process. That gambit means we never quite know who Doug is, and Farrell lacks Schwarzenegger’s broad screen persona to offer more than an Everyman sense of confusion.
Farrell gets little lift from his co-stars, cast in such blank slate roles that they frequently blur into the background. Jessica Biel, playing a woman who believes Doug is a rebel trying to undermine the British-style forces keeping the Colony under its boot, isn’t asked to do anything save supply the film’s physical demands (action+beauty).
Director Len Wiseman (the “Underworld” series) is granted some wonderfully dense sets that recall the futuristic decay of “Blade Runner” without overtly stealing from that sci-fi staple. And an action sequence mid-film involving elevator shafts is deliriously good, a moment when we stop thinking about the source material and just enjoy watching the actors run for their characters’ lives.
So why don’t we care more about the Colonists’ plight?
Bryan Cranston, who appears to be wearing a toupee over his “Breaking Bad” chrome dome, simply isn’t menacing as the government cad. The only supporting character who resonates is Bokeem Woodbine, who makes a distinct impression early on but is used sparingly later.
“Total Recall” reminds us splashy special effects and modern camera flourishes are no match for a genuine superstar and a story which has faith in its own twists and turns.
Follow Christian Toto on Twitter @TotoMovies