Total Recall a total mess

REAL BAD: The old Total Recall wasn't good. The new one, starring Colin Farrell is terrible.
REAL BAD: The old Total Recall wasn't good. The new one, starring Colin Farrell is terrible.

Total Recall gets remembered as a "great Schwarzenegger film". But it's not. It's a good film that was nearly ruined by having that great blundering steroid-popping Austrian doofus in it. (If anyone feels like arguing, the great Schwarzenegger roles are The Terminator, T2, Predator, Commando, and Conan The Barbarian. He's rubbish in everything else.)

The lead role in Total Recall needed someone who could convey emotions, like confusion and fear, and also be a credible love interest to a couple of women. None of which Schwarzenegger's talent for picking up heavy objects while wearing his underpants could prepare him for.

With a proper actor in the lead, and a script shorn of the worst of the one-liners, it could have been a sci-fi classic. As it is, Total Recall is remembered - fondly - as a daft actioner. But with that plot - derived from a Philip K Dick story, as was Blade Runner - it should have been so much more.

Or, I could be completely wrong. Because Total Recall has been remade, with a real actor in the lead, and all the cheesiness scraped off it, and it's terrible.

Colin Farrell is the welder who is haunted by the idea that there  must be more to life. He lives in The Colony (Australia) and commutes every day - via a gravity train through the Earth's core - to The United Federation of Britain, which is the only other landmass still habitable after World War III.

There's a pretty hopeless shortage of holiday resorts in this dystopian future, so to take a break, people go to "Rekall", who for a fee will implant a memory of a great time. You can shag whoever you please, go wherever you want, or have whatever job you wish, in your head.

So Farrell's Doug Quaid chooses to be a secret agent, out to overthrow the poms. But Doug's Rekall parlour is stormed by government troops the moment the techs plug him in to the memory machine - or is it? - and it's all on for young and old.

Except, nah. Even hampered by having a leading man with the emotional range of a sofa, 1990 director Paul Verhoeven (Robo-Cop, Starship Troopers) knew how to milk the scenario for humour and intrigue.

Twenty-two years later, Len Wiseman (Underworld) can only run through the stunts, and hope his cast can bring some life to the story.

There's some stunning production design, inventive set-pieces, and an excellent support cast - Bill Nighy and Bryan Cranston both have roles. Cranston's great, Nighy is thrown away too soon - but Wiseman and his writers never find anything interesting to tell us.

The script takes the scenario seriously, and yet plays even dumber than the original. And with the humour gone, there really is nothing left to keep you awake.

Done right, Total Recall should be a glorious mashup of genres; The Truman Show meets Blade Runner. As it is, this is sci-fi without ideas, and a thriller completely bereft of thrills.

Directed by Len Wiseman. Starring Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel

The Dominion Post