'Total Recall' is an echo from 1990
Hey, I remember this: An assembly-line worker visits an establishment that promises a wild ride to exotic locales - all inside his head. They strap him to a chair, hook his brain to some gizmos, and off he goes. Then he's chased by a bunch of guys with guns, gets in a kick-boxing, head-whomping throwdown with his wife, wrinkles his brow in a furious effort to get a grip on reality, and wonders, "If I'm not me, then who am I?"
At least, I think I remember this. It could just be a memory implant from the last time I dropped into Rekall Inc.
A reboot of Paul Verhoeven's 1990 futuro-thriller with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the factory schmo who gets his mind messed with (and Sharon Stone as the missus, and Rachel Ticotin as the other woman), the new Total Recall comes by way of director Len Wiseman, who casts his Underworld leading lady, Kate Beckinsale, as the wife, and Colin Farrell - that master of the befuddled eyebrow twitch - as Doug Quaid, the is-this-real-or-is-this-memory hero. Jessica Biel rounds out the menage.
Both Total Recalls owe their origins to the prolific, paranoiac scribe Philip K. Dick, whose 1966 short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" introduced the Kafka-esque conceit. Wiseman's Total Recall also owes plenty to Blade Runner (also based on a Dick story): The neon-streaked, noodle-shop squalor of the towering dystopian enclave that Farrell's Quaid wanders around looks like it's just a hover-cab ride away from where Harrison Ford's Rick Deckard lived in Ridley Scott's landmark science-fiction noir.
If The Fifth Element comes to mind while watching Wiseman's efficient, action-packed retake, well, yup, those floating cars and multitiered, M.C. Escher cityscapes sure seem familiar.
There's no trip to Mars in this Total Recall. It's the late 21st century, the world has been apocalypsized by chemical warfare, and the sole surviving clumps of civilization are the United Federation of Britain (yes, Londoners still buoyed by their success at the 2012 Olympics!) and the Colony, which is what we know as Australia. To travel between the two spots, one takes the Fall - a train that rockets straight through Earth's core.
Quaid's daily commute gives him just enough time to read a few pages of Ian Fleming's The Spy Who Loved Me. (Anachronism alert: He's got a '60s-vintage paperback!) Quaid is an espionage buff, so when a coworker tells him about the fun he can have at Rekall, he opts for the secret agent package. Next thing you know, he's shooting at platoons of robot police (second cousins to the stormtroopers of Star Wars) and lost in a mind-tripping maze of intrigue. Biel, stoic and statuesque, plays the rebel fighter Melina, and serves as Quaid's tour guide. She's plotting to depose the Federation's despotic chancellor (Bryan Cranston). Can Quaid trust her? Can he trust himself?
Strip away the video-game visual effects, the endless chases and zero gravity shootouts, and Total Recall comes down to this: What is reality? And in which reality, with which woman - Beckinsale or Biel - do you want to live?
This is a truly an existential dilemma.