Updated ‘Total Recall’ upstages forgettable original

It’s hard to imagine what we’ll be getting from Hollywood in another 22 years.

Holograms? Downloads straight to our limbic systems? The seventh or eighth incarnation of Spider-Man? (Seriously, does anybody still think this summer’s reboot was a good idea?)

But the leap between 1990’s “Total Recall” and this weekend’s update is staggering.

Gone are the mines, mutants, tiny prostitute, oxygen crisis, outer-space Hilton, sassy taxi driver and scenes of Arnold Schwarzenegger repeatedly being kicked in the crotch. (Maria Shriver, no doubt, is shedding a tear over that last omission.)

This new version scraps pretty much everything from the ludicrously violent, worse-than-you-remember original – except the tri-breasted hooker.

There’s one fleeting mention of Mars and a couple of in-jokes tweaking its predecessor. But this “Total Recall” feels as loosely based on the original as that movie was on the Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.”

Needless to say, it improves on the original in every conceivable way.

In this version, late-21st century chemical warfare has left all but tiny pockets of Earth uninhabitable. The only remaining population centers are the sterile, privileged United Federation of Britain and the gritty, working-class Colony.

Factory worker Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is happily married to EMT Lori (Kate Beckinsale). His only worry is his vivid, recurring, action-packed dreams of being a secret agent. They’re no doubt influenced by the Ian Fleming paperbacks – no e-readers in this future – he burns through during his daily commute from The Colony to the UFB on The Fall, the mass transit system that connects the two through the middle of the planet and has come to symbolize The Colony’s oppression.

When Quaid is passed over for a promotion at the plant that assembles the UFB’s Storm Trooper-like robotic police force, he seeks an adrenaline-fueled escape at Rekall, the company that turns dreams into real memories. But something goes wrong, and before the procedure is even finished, he’s hunted by the very robo-cops he helps build.

Quaid is eventually drawn into the resistance, led by Matthias (Billy Nighy) and rebel fighter Melina (Jessica Biel), and their battle against Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston). It seems the overpopulated UFB is running out of space, and Cohaagen is desperate to invade and level The Colony.

Unlike the futuristic locales in the original that mostly served as silly product placement – Pepsi survived! The newspaper is called Mars Today! – this “Total Recall” is what science fiction is supposed to look like. The UFB is a multilayered metropolis with buildings suspended in midair, while The Colony is an Asian-influenced, pancultural, “Blade Runner”-esque dystopia.

And the cast is better at every turn.

Farrell is more believable, and more layered, than Schwarzenegger as both the Everyman and the resistance fighter.

Cranston seems to be enjoying his turn as a straight-up villain lacking any of the nuances of his Emmy-dominating “Breaking Bad” role.

And Kate Beckinsale is more pivotal to the action than Sharon Stone was because, c’mon, she’s Kate Beckinsale. (Although it certainly didn’t hurt that this was helmed by her husband, Len Wiseman, who directed her in the first two “Underworld” movies.)

The fight scenes are better, the action is more entertaining, and the maglev car chase through the UFB is cool enough to make you wish that long-discussed train to Anaheim were a reality.

Things get a bit too explosiony at the end, and the whole thing feels about 10 minutes too long, although it’s tough to pinpoint what should have been cut.

But while this “Total Recall” should never be confused with great moviemaking – except in side-by-side comparisons to the original – it makes for a solid, entertaining diversion.

And, unlike the original, it won’t leave you looking for a company to erase your memories of it.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@ or 702-380-4567.


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