WARNING! This review contains plot spoilers. If you have already seen the original version of the film than you have nothing to worry about.
Please erase from your minds the first “Total Recall,“ that campy, 1990 Paul Verhoeven blockbuster in which Arnold Schwarzenegger pays a company to implant Mars vacation memories in his brain. Block out the sight of those robot-driven Johnny Cabs and all the gratuitous, blood-splattering violence. If you can, dismiss the image of that weird mutant chick with three breasts.
Pretend none of it ever happened.
Then watch the 2012 version of “Total Recall,“ which, like the original, is loosely based on the 1966 Philip K. Dick story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,“ and also about a guy in the not-too-distant future attempting to escape his ordinariness by injecting more exciting memories into his cerebrum. Because while it may not be a fully realized take on Dick’s forward-thinking piece of work, it’s still a far better film than the Verhoeven version. Oh, and it also features a woman with three breasts. Some remnants of the past, apparently, deserve to be revisited.
The movie’s opening initially suggests that this whole exercise might be nothing more than a “Recall“ rehash. As Douglas Quaid, the role formerly occupied by Schwarzenegger, Colin Farrell awakens from a dream in which he’s attempting to save a striking brunette (Jessica Biel) from some vague moment of doom. As he arises from the bed he shares with a wife who also happens to be striking (Kate Beckinsale, in place of Sharon Stone), he is nagged by the sense that he should be doing something more important than commuting halfway across planet Earth to work daily on a police drone assembly line.
This is where the plot of “Total Recall“ 2.0 begins to diverge. Quaid resides on planet Earth circa 2084, an environment that’s part “Blade Runner,“ part “Minority Report“ and entirely divided into two nations: the United Federation of Britain, ruled by the intimidating Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), and the Colony, home of poor, disheveled masses like Quaid. Instead of seeking a mind trip to Mars, our protagonist just wants to be someone else. That desire is what takes him to Rekall, a memory-adjustment business that’s New Age-ier in this version but just as capable of wreaking mega-havoc when its procedure reveals that perhaps Quaid is already more “extraordinary“ than he thought.
So what makes this 2012 “Total Recall“ superior to the Arnie model? For starters, there’s an actual actor in the starring role. As Quaid, Farrell displays an ever-evolving combination of bewilderment, terror and uber-confidence as a man with no idea how he learned to handle ammunition, yet capable of firing guns while doing an action-hero gymnastic routine. He brings realism to a hyper-real situation, something that eluded Schwarzenegger the first time around.
The futuristic gadgets and gewgaws we gawked at two decades ago also get fresh, fun updates: cell phones that can be implanted in human hands (try enforcing hands-free laws in that environment, local governments); currency featuring President Obama’s face; and The Fall, a gravity-twisting, carnival ride version of a transit system that stands as the film’s most compelling special-effects achievement.
PG-13. Contains intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity and language. 118 minutes.