Total Recall has an intriguing premise at its core, but director Len Wiseman doesn’t really explore those potentially thought-provoking ideas, which results in an intellectually superficial movie. The lazy script, written by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback, alternates between monotonous action sequences and scenes with mostly throwaway dialogue. Instead of emphasizing the ambiguity inherent in the story, the filmmakers seem to take the it-is-real approach, save for a few moments that come across as a mere afterthought.
After a moderately diverting first act, things start to go downhill. As the narrative progresses, the movie becomes increasingly loud, noisy, uninteresting, and tedious.
The action sequences are well done on a technical level, but they are neither exciting nor hardly ever involving. Character development is almost nonexistent. The uninspired climax features some clumsily delivered exposition and a silly fight between the protagonist and the main antagonist. Disappointingly, the picture ends abruptly with a relatively happy ending.
Of course, several of the points of criticism that can be raised against Total Recall would be less problematic if the events of the film were actually implanted artificial memories courtesy of Rekall. However, as I mentioned above, the movie does little to suggest that is the case.
At least the film is a treat for the eyes. Thanks to the effective production design, the world of Total Recall is stylishly realized and looks appropriately futuristic. Paul Cameron’s grittily beautiful lensing lends the proceedings a distinctive visual tone, although I wish there hadn’t been so many distracting lens flares. The visual effects are excellent.
Colin Farrell acquits himself fairly well in the role of Douglas Quaid, but his character turns out to be a rather flat protagonist in whom the viewer is unlikely to invest emotionally. The female actors are even more limited by the script. Kate Beckinsale plays Lori Quaid, who soon proves to be a determined and exaggeratedly resilient adversary. As Melina, Jessica Biel has very little to do and consequently gives a lackluster performance. Bryan Cranston does a serviceable turn as Cohaagen. While Bill Nighy is completely wasted in the role of Matthias, it is always nice to see him on the screen.