The best thing that can be said about Len Wiseman's Total Recall is that it's a big departure from Paul Verhoeven's take on the same source material -- but while that means that fans of the previous version won't be able to scream "plagiarism!," it doesn't necessarily make this strobing, hyperfrenetic eyesore any easier to sit through.
The planet has been decimated by nuclear war in the late 21st century, leaving only two nations -- the United Federation of Britain and the Colony. Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is a factory worker with a stable job and a loving wife (Kate Beckinsale), but upon learning that a company named Rekall could grant him the memory of the ultimate espionage adventure, he decides that a virtual vacation is better than no vacation at all. But in the midst of having the new memories implanted, something goes haywire. Still strapped to the chair as the system breaks down, he's branded a spy as the authorities close in, and quickly flees for his life. Later, Quaid discovers that he has a secret identity, and he joins forces with rebel soldier Melina (Jessica Biel) on a mission to track down Matthias (Bill Nighy), the head of a fierce resistance movement that's been labeled a terrorist organization by the tyrannical Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston). Cohaagen seeks to control the entire free world, and now the harder Quaid fights to defeat him, the clearer it becomes that his memory had been altered long before he walked into Rekall.
As depressingly bleak, cluttered, and achromatic as its predecessor was colorful, quirky, and distinctive, Wiseman's Total Recall feels like one soulless, semicompetent scene placed after the next, with the occasional interesting plot point or inventive action beat injected into the mix. It all has the distinctive air of a dark and dreary cliché -- a movie so desperately busy that we never have the time to stop and realize that the most interesting ideas in the film are constantly being suffocated by hollow, drawn-out sequences set against a CG backdrop that never feels lived-in, despite the commendable attention to detail from the talented production designers.
Although the cast are competent enough to make the whole thing passably convincing, the two best actors (Cranston and Nighy) have very little screen time, and the two female leads are so bland and interchangeable that the only way to tell them apart is by who they're shooting at. Meanwhile, the dubstep sensibilities of the instantly forgettable soundtrack serve as the perfect audible complement to the jumbled mess unfolding before our eyes. Yes, Verhoeven's Total Recall may look hopelessly dated at this point, but at least it has outrageous special effects, clever social satire, and style to spare. Strip away all of that and throw in an army of I, Robots, and the result is Wiseman's vision -- a remake that's well-worth missing.