THE IDEA of a "Total Recall" remake must have had great appeal to star Colin Farrell.
By immersing himself in Philip K. Dick's idea of future technology that could replace actual memories with fake ones, representing a more pleasant "reality," Farrell might find a way to forget completely that he'd been in "Alexander," and perhaps convince himself that he'd been in something much better, like "Blade: Trinity."
Audiences, meanwhile, may be wondering how they could forget they've already seen this movie, with Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of the erstwhile Terminator's better movies (newly reissued on Blu-ray, with hilarious commentary from Ah-nuld himself).
The Farrell "Recall" is different from the Schwarzenegger "Recall" — the Martian colonies have been replaced by Earth colonies, and coherence has been replaced by ceaseless rolling action sequences and loud banging noises.
The movie is not, I hasten to add, markedly different from "The Bourne Identity." Substitute memory-wiping for amnesia, and you're looking at pretty much the same movie, at least for the first half-hour or so.
Guy discovers he's a secret agent (by suddenly summoning heretofore unknown powers of butt-kicking), goes to his safe deposit box, digs out passports and cash, flees government agents looking to kill him before he figures out what he "knows."
Here, you have the added wrinkle of his memories being completely unreliable — he's never sure if a recovered memory is genuine or planted.
That may sound like a prescription for psychic agony, but from my perspective, it's the opposite.
In one reality, he's with Kate Beckinsale. In another, Jessica Biel. He's in some time/space/memory continuum of awesome brunet perfection. I found this fantasy so distracting that I completely lost track of the so-called plot — something about a dystopian dictator (Bryan Cranston) and a revolutionary leader (Bill Nighy), with Farrell as a secret agent somewhere in between, trying to figure out where his true loyalties lie.
The geography of the future dystopia is baffling — bad people above ground, good people on the other side of the Earth's core, or maybe I have that backward. There is also a "No Zone" — the remnant of some apocalyptic war. It differs from other postapocalyptic landscapes in that it still has public transportation.
The story is consumed by the question of whether Farrell will end up aiding tyranny or social justice (take a wild guess), but I was consumed by the Beckinsale/Biel dilemma, and by the idea that although the Earth might be better off if he chose sides, he himself might benefit from permanent indecision, and I would hardly blame him.
Contact movie critic Gary Thompson at 215-854-5992 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "Keep It Reel," at philly.com/keepitreel.
Review | ss1/2
Directed by Len Wiseman. With Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale, Bokeem Woodbine, Bryan Cranston, Bill Nighy. Distributed by Columbia Pictures.
Running time: 109 minutes
Parent's guide: PG-13
Playing at: Area theaters