Fight sequences are intricately choreographed, action scenes spectacularly conceived and staged, with the level of scale often being broad and elaborate. Perhaps most impressively, Wiseman assembles it all with clarity. Quickly-paced but not frenetically edited, with clearly framed shots over shaky hand-held close-ups, the movie allows us to actually see and enjoy the action rather than confusing us with a muddled mess that borders on headache inducing.

Wiseman’s vision of the future is visual eye candy for special effects geeks, from detailed cityscapes and slums to the sleek and menacing robot police force. That we get to take it in, appreciate it, and even revel in it along the way makes this non-stop thrill-ride a very entertaining one.

It’s all anchored by a great cast that, to the actor, plays the material straight. Even when the script offers up intentionally contrived one-liners, the actors refuse to plant tongue in cheek. Their performances are still very character-rich but never overplayed with juicy genre schtick.

Ferrell makes for a compelling and complex action star, Jessica Biel (Valentine's Day) is his impressive equal in all respects, and Emmy winner Bryan Cranston (Larry Crowne) is a menacing foe (no surprise to fans of TV's Breaking Bad), even if he does nibble the scenery a bit more than the rest. Beckinsale is a formidable action star in her own right... and much more believable than any of Angelina Jolie’s numerously stiff attempts at the genre.

Stylistically, Total Recall strikes a deft balance; dark but not depressing, gritty but not grimy, and sometimes slick without sacrificing its sense of authenticity or dramatic tension. It does push the boundaries of the PG-13 rating, however, from brief nudity (a quick nod to the infamous three-breasted woman from the original) to a fair amount of language and some cringe-worthy violence.

But on the plus side, this reboot is a solid and extremely well-crafted sci-fi feast that succeeds by remaining focused on its characters and story rather than being distracted by its admittedly-cool visionary world. It’s unlikely to win over people who don’t appreciate the genre, but those who’ve been hopeful since seeing the previews won’t be disappointed.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content:  Alcohol is consumed at a bar; no intoxication.
  • Language/Profanity:  The S-word is used with regularity throughout the film.  Four uses of the A-word.  Two instances of crude slang for male genetalia.  One F-word.  Four uses of the Lord’s name in vain. 
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: Brief nudity of a three-breasted woman.  A husband and wife kiss passionately while in bed, dressed in their underwear.  Scantily clad pole dancers seen in silhouette.
  • Violence: Frequent violence throughout involving intense gunplay and brutal fistfights.  Bones are violently broken a few times (though nothing visually gory).  Three stabbings.  Innocent bystanders are mowed down by collateral gunfire in a few scenes.  Other people are shot violently and killed.  A hand is cut open to extract an implanted technology.  A head is cut open after a car crash (bloody, but not gruesome).  Two different people are shot to death in the head at point-blank range.  Two other people shot through the hands.

Publication date: August 3, 2012