Colin Farrell in Total Recall

Is it real, is it Recall, the ads ask. Well, no, this mind-bending, future-shock action thriller is not remotely Total Recall as we knew it in Arnie’s day. Nobody goes to Mars, and it’s set in ultra-trendy futuristic London, for heaven’s sake. Commendably, and completely justifying a remake, it’s a total reboot of Philip K Dick’s seminal short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale. And not much of it is real, either; it’s a total CGI fest, with scarcely a scene without a firework display of visual effects.

Not many actors would have the cohones to step into Arnie’s shoes as the malcontented factory worker who feels he isn’t living the life he should be living and finds Rekall, a company that turns your dreams into reality. So, you’d sure imagine, the role’s quite a schlepp for one-time boy band reject Colin Farrell.

The good news is that both the movie and the star are unexpectedly classy, surprisingly excellent indeed. In a role you’d imagine was a no-acting-required gig, Farrell fights like a tiger and runs like the wind while still finding time, room and energy to give one of his most remarkable performances to date as hero Douglas Quaid, who contacts Rekall, which implants artificial memories into your brain. Naturally, things go wrong, and Farrell no longer knows what’s real, and whether he’s a spy or what. He soon goes on the run from his beautiful wife Kate Beckinsale (or is she?) and a police force led by wicked chancellor Bryan Cranston (once the nice dad in Malcolm in the Middle). Along comes gorgeous freedom fighter Jessica Biel, who could provide our hero with salvation, and a weird cameo from a strangely uninvolved Bill Nighy.

So, its theme might be about the nature of identity and to ‘be careful what you wish for’ and its set designs and visual effects may be gob-smackingly stunning – well yes, even if they’re borrowed wholesale from Blade Runner, they are. But this movie’s all about thrills and action, not ideas. And the thrills come like an out-of-control rollercoaster and the action’s astoundingly fast paced and adrenaline-pumping. The movie, like Farrell, just never stops for an intake of breath.

So, Total Recall is loads and loads better – classier and more exciting – than expected, and that’s a great tribute to director Len Wiseman (Live Free or Die Hard), who again proves if you want epic set pieces, he’s the go-to guy.

And Farrell? This is a big feather in his cap. Go Farrell, go! I’m even prepared to forgive you Alexander for this.

(c) Derek Winner 2012