A triumph of computer-generated images and production design bound, I'm sad to say, to a generic and two-dimensional chase movie. To give credit where it is due, the fictional future is interesting: in the early 21st-century, only England and Australia are habitable. England is a bright and wealthy metropolis with flying cars and open urban spaces. Australia ("the Colony") is crowded, rain-swept, impoverished, and defined by vice and squalor. The Colony's blue-collar wage earners, including Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), travel through the earth's core every morning to slave away in English factories. The visuals are familiar (England is Minority Report, Australia is Blade Runner), but still fascinating.
The first hour is by far the film's superior half. It's nothing revelatory, but those aforementioned visuals are engaging, and there is a minor, Bourne Identity style excitement to the early scenes of average-Joe Quaid discovering his (forgotten? implanted?) secret-agent abilities.
As it goes on, though, it becomes clearer and clearer director Len Wiseman (Underworld, Live Free or Die Hard) has no game plan other than louder, louder, busier, busier, more chasing, more shooting, repeat, repeat. It becomes as interesting as watching another person play a mediocre video game. Any sense of adventure or escapist fun vanishes around the time Jessica Biel's character enters the storyline in earnest.
Despite the poster and television spots teasing, "Is it real? Is it Rekall?," the film displays a curious disinterest in reality-bending twists and turns, instead favoring physical violence and bland evil plots. I truly can't imagine anyone caring as the antagonist, a sneering corporate dullard played by a squandered Bryan Cranston, leads his robot troops to conquer and level the Colony. There's no rooting interest. It's just noise. The Cranston character is a bit confusing, too, because he's so thinly drawn. He's first shown as this power mad captain of industry, a man operating in the shadows and controlling the population through surveillance and subterfuge, but later seems more concerned with fighting Quaid man to man than any grander plan. There's no character integrity; he changes as the movie's needs change, and by the third act, a physical male opponent is required.
Farrell, one of my favorite actors, is fine here, but not in top form. He seems bored throughout. As for the other performers: there is almost too much of Kate Beckinsale in comical, invincible, ice-cold-bitch mode (she's sexy, but the novelty wears thin), though I'm glad Wiseman loves his wife. Biel barely registers as the real love interest, and one could easily forget Bill Nighy's entire role.
All in all, the new Total Recall is honestly too vanilla to even fly as a second-tier popcorn movie. It's a wash, though at least it can be a treat for the eyes.