It's not uncommon to have hot, sweaty dreams involving Jessica Biel, but the problem with Colin Farrell's Biel dreams is that they only involve him and her shooting bad guys together. So you can't really blame him when he signs up to have a company hack his brain and wire it to help him get busy with Biel or remake an early 1990s cyberpunk thriller. Whichever's cheaper.
Farrell's wife, Kate Beckinsale, isn't happy with the maneuver, given that the couple is so poor that bare-chested, wistfully-staring Farrell can't even afford a shirt, and the producers can't afford a new script. Her solution is that Farrell should dream of her, and when he blows her off she ends up chasing him down and trying to kill him. Marriage can be tough.
The only way you'll get think Total Recall is totally mind-bendingly new is if you're 25 and couldn't convince your parents to let you watch the original Total Recall when you were 3, then got frustrated that you forgot about it. Some settings are swapped out, but the general plot outline and a bunch of dialogue is largely the same, albeit a little unfamiliar because Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone have been replaced by people who can actually act.
Copying the 1990 cult favorite isn't such a bad thing. The new movie also nails the original's sense of heedless, ridiculous fun. As Farrell transforms into a super-spy who can mangle robo-cops with his bare chest, the movie rarely misses an opportunity to step back and subtly make fun of itself. There's something to be said for a movie that can make you chuckle one minute, then genuinely fear for the fate of its unkillable hero as he leaps through a Super Mario-like succession of platforms the next.
The movie is set in a world that's been entirely destroyed except for a Europe-spanning British empire and continent-sized ghetto of Australia. Don't fret, Americans, because no one has British or Aussie accents, so we clearly took over both places before the other continents were crushed. The rich British Americans, led by Bryan Craston of Breaking Bad, exploit the poor Australian Americans for cheap labor. There are revolutionaries out there who want to change things, but they mostly stick to ineffectual activities such as spraying graffiti all over their squalor.
The future may be bleak, but the technology sure rocks. Memory implantation machines are only the beginning. There are flying cars, wall-mounted iPads, phones installed in hands, elevators that go directly through the earth's core to get from one side of the planet to the other, and most importantly, three-boobed hookers.
Farrell's attempt at memory implantation — an installation of Norton Biel Dream Enhancer — either unlocks sleeper agent memories or frazzles his brain so he thinks he's a spy who finally gets to make out with Biel but adorably hold hands with her while running around, fleeing certain death. There are some Inception-like is-he-dreaming-or-not trickery, but subtlety and misdirection are not the strong suits for filmmaker Len Wiseman, whose credits include the first two Underworld movies and the fourth Die Hard. So you pretty much can tell what's happening. Meaning, stuff will explode. And then explode some more. And Farrell will once again wind up shirtless.
This may be Wiseman's best movie yet, yet it's only the second-best Total Recall. But it will have to suffice until Suri Cruise and a baby to be named later make another one in 22 years or so.
Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel and Bryan Cranston. Written by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback, based on a screen story by Ronald Shusett, Dan O'Bannon, Jon Povill and Wimmer, which is in turn based on a short story by Philip K. Dick. Directed by Len Wiseman. 116 minutes. Rated PG-13.