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Friday, August 3, 2012 - Page updated at 08:00 a.m.

Movie review
'Total Recall': Not as memorable as the original

By John Hartl
Special to The Seattle Times


Paul Verhoeven's rowdy science-fiction fantasy "Total Recall" generated a surprisingly varied and loyal fan base after it was released in the summer of 1990.

Earlier this week, Entertainment Weekly's critic, Chris Nashawaty, demonstrated just how devoted the fan base could be when he confessed that "not only is it one of my favorite Ah-nuld movies, it's one of my favorite movies, period."

The Ah-nuld he's referring to is, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who earned some of his best reviews for his performance as a frustrated construction worker who dreams of living on Mars in the near future.

Neither Verhoeven nor Schwarzenegger are involved in this version, which stars Colin Farrell as the hero and Kate Beckinsale as his duplicitous wife. The movie was directed by Len Wiseman, who made the 2007 installment in the Bruce Willis franchise, "Live Free or Die Hard."

Unfortunately, it's impossible to imagine anyone who would feel as Nashawaty does about the remake. The two movies may follow similar story lines and set up nearly identical characters, but Wisemen's film is a soulless mess, reminiscent of the unwatchable "Matrix" sequels, while Verhoeven's movie remains a dazzling carnival.

Check out any collection of stills or advertisements from Verhoeven's original and you're bound to run across shots of the toy taxi driver who has a surreal conversation with Ah-nuld or the aggressively fat lady who looks like she might sing if only she could free herself from a mound of makeup.

Such kinky touches have largely been eliminated from Wiseman's remake, which is made up of a series of look-alike explosions, fights, shootings and chases (especially during the punishing second half) that simply couldn't matter less. We barely know or care about these characters. Heck, we've hardly been introduced.

This estrangement is almost never the fault of the actors. Farrell makes a plausible working-class hero, and Beckinsale seems game for the tricky role of his wife, but they can't fill in for the inspired coupling of Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone.

And why would you hire Bryan Cranston (from "Breaking Bad"), then give him so little to do? Chancellor Cohaagen, the character he plays, is supposed to be the leader of a world that's been reduced to only two livable countries, Britain and The Colony.

Verhoeven made a brainy R-rated action film that put his own spin on the violence, always making it frightening and personal. The costly remake bumps that down to a PG-13 for "sci-fi action and violence" (how could they be different from ordinary action and violence?).

Philip K. Dick's 1966 short story, "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale," was the inspiration for both films. Another Dick story, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?," was the basis for "Blade Runner," which seems to have had an influence on the film-noirish visual approach of both Verhoeven and Wiseman.

But the original still makes sense visually and metaphorically, and the rehash is, well, a rehash.

John Hartl:

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