08/07/2012 09:19 am ET Updated Oct 07, 2012

ReThink Review: Total Recall - Down the Memory Hole

Did anyone ask for a remake of Total Recall, the 1990 futuristic sci-fi film about memory implantation and Mars starring Arnold Schwarzenegger? Yeah, me neither, but that's what we've got, with Colin Farrell taking over as Doug Quaid, the supposedly average guy who, in an attempt to bring some excitement to his life, goes to a company called Rekall that promises to give customers vivid, enjoyable memories of events that never happened -- but ends up revealing that the life Quaid knows may be an invention to hide his true identity as a super spy named Hauser. Many consider the original Total Recall to be a near-classic, so the big question is whether the new version is different enough or a big enough improvement to justify its existence.

The new version starts by declaring one of its biggest differences -- no trip to Mars. Instead, we have an earth devastated by chemical warfare where the only two remaining human settlements are ones in the former Britain and Australia, known respectively as the United Federation of Briton and the Colony. The Federation, ruled by Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) is the nicer place to live and benefits from the cheap labor of the Colony, whose citizens, including Quaid, commute to the Federation on a sort of bullet train known as the Fall that travels through the center of the earth.

The problem with this earthbound setting is that you lose all the interesting Mars mutants (though the three-boobed woman makes an appearance), as well as the alien angle. But perhaps more important is that the original's Mars colony felt more like the Wild West or the cantina on Tattooine from Star Wars, full of weird characters, criminals, sin, and lawlessness, where a rebellion for independence could really take hold. Despite the world of the new version being bigger and more detailed thanks to computer graphics that weren't possible in 1990, there's a major oversight in that the Colony just felt like a slightly seedier, more working class neighborhood in the Federation, where the Colonists didn't seem much like they were suffering under the oppression of a far-off government, to the point that I often forgot (or didn't care) where the action was taking place.

The top bad guy lieutenant from the original, Richter (Michael Ironside), has been combined with Quaid's wife/double agent, Lori, which is a slight improvement since this more badass Lori is played by the ultra-hot Kate Beckinsale, though she's a bit too attractive for the role since I often found myself wishing that Kate Beckinsale was chasing me around. But Beckinsale -- much like her co-star Jessica Biel, who plays a rebel who knew Quaid in his previous life -- is one of those actresses who, despite her stardom, has rarely proven herself to be a good actress, which isn't helped by the fact that most of the dialogue in the new Total Recall is pretty awful and delivered way too seriously.

And speaking of seriousness, that's another big problem with the new Total Recall -- it's a joyless affair. The original had a real sense of humor to it, aided by the fact that it starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, who's muscles, accent, and one-liners make him inherently pretty ridiculous. And, at times, Schwarzenegger's Quaid actually embraced the idea of being a super spy, even if he wasn't sure if he was really living it or not. Farrell is serious or scared the whole time, and you never get a good sense of who this guy is, nor does the film have much fun with the sort of Bourne Identity angle of a guy realizing that he has latent superspy skills. And for some reason, the makers of the new version turned the original's ultra-cool hologram bracelet into Quaid's high-tech disguise, effectively eliminating two of the original's most fun and memorable scenes.

There are other problems, like Cranston being underused, the fact that the robotic cops that will enslave the Colony are horrible shots, and that the pacing is off. But in the end, the biggest knock I have against the new Total Recall is that I was just plain bored, which I never would've thought possible in a movie with so much running and shooting, especially when it's done by one of the hottest actresses on the planet. So if you want the Total Recall experience, save yourself some money and trouble and get your ass to Mars.

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