Don't worry if you can't remember the original "Total Recall." The latest take on the sci-fi short from Philip K. Dick is not as much a remake of the 1990 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger but a re-imagining. In an effort to ground the new version, starring Colin Farrell, director Len Wiseman has replaced a trip to Mars with a battle between the last two populated areas on Earth, stripped away almost all of the story points about mutation and pumped up the ambiguity of whether the events that unfold are real or manufactured memories.
The basic story is the same: Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is a factory worker in a future where the haves and have-nots live on opposite sides of the planet. Workers live in The Colony, an overpopulated world that looks as if it was decorated by the makers of "Blade Runner." Those with money live in Europe, a short commute through the center of the Earth.
Quaid has a nagging feeling that he's meant for bigger and better things, which manifest into a personality shift when he goes to a dream-making firm known as Rekall. Instead of giving him a memory event, Rekall triggers repressed memories of Quaid being a super agent. Or is it really a fantasy? That's the crux of the story.
It's difficult to talk about the characters played by Kate Beckinsale or Jessica Biel without giving away clues. It's safe to say both characters play important roles in Quaid's life. Beckinsale continues to solidify her place as one of the top action-film heroes with a performance that's more intense and bruising than any she's played in the "Underworld" films.
Wiseman, the master of the "Underworld" movies and Beckinsale's husband, has shifted the film focus away from the psychological elements for a more physical approach. Once the film starts, it is a white-knuckle thrill ride that doesn't offer too many chances to breathe. Whether it be a brutal battle in an elevator with four combatants or a high-speed car chase in the sky, "Total Recall" is exciting.
And, the action is staged against a eye-popping backdrop of a future that's both brilliant and blighted.
"Total Recall" has its problems, and it can be nitpicked into obscurity. The main woe is the way Wiseman deals with the ambiguity of the story. Fact or fiction? He leans so heavily in one direction that it takes the pop out of the final scenes.
"Total Recall" isn't unforgettable, but it's the kind of movie you won't be sorry to go see.
"Total Recall," rated PG-13 for language, violence, brief nudity. Stars Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale, Bryan Cranston. Directed by Len Wiseman. Running time: 121 minutes. Grade: B Theaters and times for this movie | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.