“Premium Rush” is ludicrous fun

David Koepp has put together an impressive list of screenplays since his career began in the late 1980s. Here is a sampling: “Toy Soldiers,” “Jurassic Park,” “Carilto’s Way,” “Mission Impossible,” “The Lost World: Jurassic Park 2,” “Panic Room,” “Spider-Man,” “Stir of Echoes” and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”

For his latest effort, he co-writes and directs what could be a two-wheeled version of “Fast and Furious.” It’s called “Premium Rush” and it features one of the busiest actors of the year: Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

At its core, “Premium Rush” is ludicrous, but a lot of fun. If you do not get caught up in the faulty logistics, you will have a good time.

To begin with, you have to accept without question that there still is a market out there for bicycle messengers in New York. In a voice-over by the lead character Wilee (Gordon-Levitt), it is noted that despite Fed Ex, faxes and other electronic ways to dispatch material, New York is still a beehive of cyclists zooming in and out of traffic, delivering various parcels.

So okay. Next, do not dwell upon the idea that with all these bicyclists trying to share limited street space with thousands of vehicles, the attrition rate of these riders via injury and death should be astronomical.

Koepp’s script, written in collaboration with John Kamps, opens with Wilee where you would expect him to be — laid out on the street after a spectacular entanglement with a car. How he got to this point is then retraced via flashbacks.

Wilee is something of a superstar and oddball in the world of bicycle messengers. Shunning the sophisticated two-wheeled machinery available, he prefers a fixed-gear bike with no brakes. He is a wizard — he can ride his bike anywhere, and in a really hard concept to swallow, he supposedly, in a split second as he zips toward a sudden obstacle, can foresee which options will lead to disaster and which ones will not and negotiate through it unscathed.

Another quirk of Wilee is that he is graduated from law school, but the idea of being desk-bound horrifies him.

Late one day he is dispatched for a quick run to deliver a small envelope to the Chinatown area of New York. He picks up the envelope at a local university from a skittish woman named Nima (Jamie Chung). But before he can get started on his delivery, he is stopped by a man claiming to work at the university who asks for the envelope back, as it is not supposed to be delivered. Wilee, however, adheres to the policy that once he takes possession of the parcel he is to give it to nobody except the intended recipient. So off he goes.

But the man proves persistent. It turns out the man actually is an NYPD detective named Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon). As part of the flashbacks, viewers find out why Monday is so desperate to claim the envelope. Let’s just say that Bobby Monday is no Joe Friday.

The beauty of “Premium Rush” is in the incredible action scenes of Wilee barreling along the streets of New York with near miss after near miss. These scenes had to be carefully choreographed and are masterful.

After dodging potential disasters with Monday hot on his tail, Wilee decides to return the envelope to Nima. But it turns out Nima is sharing an apartment with Wilee’s girlfriend — and fellow bicycle messenger — Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), who suspects Nima is in some sort of trouble, hence the need to have the envelope delivered. She joins up with Wilee after he learns how desperate Nima is and opts to make the delivery.

Meanwhile, the envelope delivery has been reassigned to Manny (Wole Parks), a professional rival of Wilee’s who also has designs on Vanessa. Wilee learns that Monday has managed to have the delivery address changed so it will be brought to him, so now Wilee and Vanessa have to catch up with Manny and stop him — and Manny is not intending to slow down, no way.

This is a very physical role for Gordon-Levitt, who was featured earlier this summer as Blake, the police officer who knows Batman’s true identity in “The Dark Knight Rises.” Later he will be seen opposite Bruce Willis in the sci-fi thriller “Loopers.”

There is very little character development here and the only actor who really gets to stretch dramatically is Shannon. As one fellow reviewer noted, Shannon seems heir apparent to taking on roles of crazed men that used to be a staple of Christopher Walken. Shannon has proven he can portray a sympathetic character like Curtis in “Take Shelter,” a man driven crazy by apocalyptic visions, or David Karnes in “World Trade Center,” who helps free the Port Authority officers buried in the rubble of the Twin Towers on 9-11. But he also nails crazed or fanatical individuals like the man obsessed with bugs attacking him in “Bug,” or the wildly hypocritical Agent Nelson Van Alden in the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire.”

“Premium Rush” is a rush, an energetic film that just asks viewers to sit back and enjoy a thrill ride.

Shepard explores life, love, danger in “Hit and Run”

The summer blockbuster season is winding down, and before the movie industry segues into a brief horror-flick release period in conjunction with Halloween, followed by the feel-good holiday offerings and the awards-season lineup, there are a few breezy films out there that offer pleasant enough entertainment.

One such movie is “Hit and Run,” the brainchild of “Punk’d” star Dax Shepard and his creative partner David Palmer. “H&R” is a chase-movie comedy that is definitely aimed for adult audiences.

Shepard wrote the screenplay, co-directed with Palmer and stars in the movie, along with Kristen Bell, to whom he is engaged in real life.

Shepard plays Charles Bronson, a man in the witness protection program. He lives with Annie (Bell) in some out of the way California town, assuming the Bronson name as he tries to live under the radar after testifying as a witness to a bank robbery and shooting.

The sweet relationship between Charles and Annie hits a snag when she is offered a dream job that requires her to relocate to Los Angeles. This presents a problem, as Charles, if he moves to LA with Annie, puts himself at risk. Nevertheless, he loves Annie and decides he will accompany her.

Of course, there have to be other conflicts thrown in. Annie’s former boyfriend, Gil (Michael Rosenbaum), is convinced Charles is a psychopath will kill Annie eventually. He does a little research and learns that Charles’ real name is Yul Perrkins, and unable to get his brother Terry (Jess Rowland), a sheriff’s deputy, to pursue Charles/Yul and Annie as they head for LA, goes in pursuit himself.

It turns out Charles/Yul was not entirely forthcoming to Annie about his life before entering the witness protection program. He had told Annie he was a bystander witness to the robbery, when in reality he was the getaway driver for that robbery plus about a dozen previous bank heists. Now, his former friend and partner in crime, Alex Dmitri (a dreadlocked Bradley Cooper), would love to track Charles/Yul down for some payback. Gil contacts Alex via Facebook and soon Alex, with girlfriend Neve (Joy Bryant) and crime partner Allen (Ryan Hansen) in tow, join the chase.

Also in the fray is Tom Arnold as Randy Anderson, a bumbling, highly-stressed U.S. Marshal who always has problems with firing his gun at the wrong times. He goes after Charles/Yul, fearing the man will be in danger now that he is on the road.

Shepard pieces together some funny verbal encounters, particularly between Charles and Randy, and even allows Cooper to be showcased in a scene that provides some humanity in the Alex character.

Meanwhile, Shepard and Bell have some good chemistry between them. Bell’s Annie is a young woman who has developed an innovative new social science based on non-violent conflict resolution. Yet despite her expertise in this field, she benefits greatly from Charles’ simple tension-relieving, deep-breathing psyche-up sessions.

Shepard’s Charles/Yul is a nice guy but a person who goofed up in his younger years. Now he is determined to put that life behind him. He is genuine in his efforts, under Annie’s guidance, to be more sensitive and politically correct.

Among the staples of comedic scenes are the ones in which two people are trying to resolve their relationship issues amid chaos. In “H&R,” as Charles/Yul and Annie are fleeing for their lives, they bicker over what is honest in their relationship. It recalls the classic finale in “Grosse Point Blank” when professional killer Martin Blank (John Cusack), in the middle of a fierce gun battle against other trained killers, pauses between shootouts to make amends with Debi (Minnie Driver), the girl he ditched 10 years earlier.

“Hit and Run” provides humor in both dialog and physical comedy, the latter provided by Arnold’s frenetic Randy. Brief appearances by Beau Bridges, Jason Bateman and Kristen Chenowith add texture to this summertime comedy.

Oops!
Sometimes it is easy to get names mixed up, usually because of similarities in spelling or whatever. For years I have managed to do the old name goof with actors Scott Glenn and Scott Wilson. In my review of “The Bourne Legacy, I wrote that Scott Wilson was among the cast. It was Scott Glenn. Wilson was very much on my mind because the new season of “The Walking Dead” is coming up and Wilson has a key role in that wonderful series.

Aging stars still have the moves in “The Expendables 2″

They are well-armed, well trained, expertly synchronized. They are fearless, loyal to one another and no job is too big or daunting. They also probably receive in the mail regular solicitations from AARP.

These are The Expendables, back for more — naturally, given the $266 million in worldwide box office returns from the first movie that came out in 2010.

Sylvester Stallone — although not at his fighting weight in his prime “Rocky” and “Rambo” era but still looking very buff for a 66-year-old — returns as Barney Ross, leader of a group of mercenary operatives to whom subtlety is an alien concept. They burst in, usually uninvited, on their machinery, guns of all calibers blazing away. In their wake they leave a lot of bodies and wreckage, with mission accomplished.

“The Expendables 2″ does have a plot but the real showcase is the action. The draw of the original 2010 movie was bringing together a handful of proven action stars to join Stallone in the festivities: Jason Statham (age 44), Jet Li (49), Dolph Lundgren (54), and although not as high-profile as these guys but still impressive specimens Randy Couture (49) and Terry Crews (the baby of the group at 44 but 10 months younger than Statham). Plus there was the promise of more appearances by Bruce Willis (57) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (65).

Simon West is the director and he broke into the field with a bang in 1997 with “Con Air.” Stallone co-wrote the script with Richard Wenk, recreating the characters from Dave Callaham’s “The Expendables” screenplay.

Among the amusements of “The Expendables” are the names Callaham attached to these guys. It starts at the top with Stallone’s Barney — not a name one associates with a killing machine. Then there is Lee Christmas (Statham), Yin Yang (Li), Hale Caesar (Crews), Toll Road (Couture) and finally the only one with a name that sings testosterone — Lundgren’s Gunner Jensen.

After a successful mission in which they rescue a big-time Chinese banker, and oh by the way also save Trench (Schwarzenegger), the Expendables barely have time to soak up the beer and savor some R&R when Church (Willis) shows up, calling in a debt. It’s an easy mission, Church promises Ross — just extract the contents from a safe in a plane that was shot down in the hinterlands of the former USSR. There is one twist, however. They have to bring along on the mission Maggie (Nan Yu), who can crack the safe’s constantly changing entry code.

Barney expresses his reluctance to have a woman on board, but when she comes thundering up on a motorcycle to meet Barney, it is a no-brainer she will turn out to be very useful, physically as well as mentally.

There is a new guy in the group, a sharpshooter named Billy the Kid. He looks like he could be Thor’s younger brother, minus the long hair. In fact, he is. Billy is played by Chris Hemsworth’s kid brother Liam, who also happens to be engaged to Miley Cyrus (although stories are coming out that the engagement may be in trouble). Before going on the mission, Billy tells Barney this is his last one, as he wants to settle down with his nurse girlfriend whom he met while serving in Afghanistan. This of course leaves you with a bad feeling about his chances for survival.

The extraction of the contents is a success, but to no surprise there is a complication. The Expendables find themselves outmanned, outgunned and at a disadvantage when confronted by The Sangs, sort of a cartel that has its hands in everything. They are led by Vilain (cute play on the spelling), played by Jean-Claude Van Damme (51), making a return to the action genre but this time on the bad guy side of the ledger. He is after the contents of the safe, which is just a device that reveals the location of a stash of weapons-grade plutonium left over from The Cold War. Vilain wants to get his hands on the stuff and sell it to a highest bidder for a nifty profit.

As if that is not enough to rile up the Expendables, there also is the revenge factor.

Also returning to the action movie world after a sabbatical is Chuck Norris (72) as Booker, a guy who works as a solitary entity in picking off members of The Sang. Naturally, there are references to “lone wolf” when he’s around, a nod to his 1983 movie. Also, there are silly lines about “terminator” and several plays on Schwarzenegger’s famous “I’ll be back.”

“The Expendables 2″ is a popcorn movie through and through — a few obligatory quiet moments for character development, the natural sarcasm of guys goofing on each other, and loads of noisy action, from heavy artillery to knives to feet and fists.

For some reason, Li, after a brilliantly choreographed scene in which he dispatches a half-dozen guys using frying pans, literally drops out of the picture and is never seen again. On the plus side, the inevitable one-on-one between Stallone and Van Damme does not disappoint. It is brutal but not overly long as some of these slug-fests become, crossing the line into absurdity.

“ParaNorman”: Seeing dead people and getting a call to halt a curse

It was inevitable that zombies would lurch their way into the ever expanding realm of animated features. Indeed, in this latter part of 2012, the genre will see revisits to grand old horror superstars — Dracula (“Hotel Transylvania”) and Frankenstein (“Frankenweenie”).

For now, “ParaNorman” is on the screen. This feature is from Laika Entertainment, which produced “Coraline.” Chris Butler, who was the storyboard supervisor for “Coraline,” wrote the screenplay and co-directed with Sam Fell. This is Butler’s directorial debut, but Fell has had experience at the helm with “The Tale of Despereaux” and “Flushed Away.”

“ParaNorman” is a familiar story of a misfit who becomes a reluctant hero. It does have a touch of “The Sixth Sense” in that the lead character sees dead people. In fact, Butler credits “The Sixth Sense” with helping him develop the character of Norman Babcock, a boy who is more at ease talking to the departed than to live people. He is a loner whose sanctuary is his monster-themed bedroom.

When not cooped up in his room, he is usually watching scary movies with his grandmother (voice of Elaine Stritch), who happens to be deceased.

At school, Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee, who played the son in the somber “The Road”) is ridiculed, especially by the bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who was Red Mist in “Kick-Ass”). Norman, with his invisible friends, is able to cope, so is not all that eager to pal around with another put-upon kid, Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), who along with obesity has allergies, IBS and perspires excessively.

Norman’s life, though not idyllic, is OK, until he is confronted by his estranged, and strange, uncle, Mr. Penderghast (John Goodman). Knowing his time is running out, Penderghast tells Norman it is the boy’s duty to take on the responsibility Penderghast assumed all his life. The old man also can see and communicate with dead people, and it has been his duty for years to ward off a curse that has hovered over the town of Blithe Hollow since the 18th century, when town leaders tried and executed a young girl for being a witch. Sense then, the girl, naturally still angry, has assumed power and can raise out of their graves those people who condemned her, making them the walking dead, aka zombies.

Supposedly, the task Norman inherits is easy. He just has to conduct a yearly chore of going to the graveyard where townsfolk, who executed the alleged witch, and the girl are buried, and read from a book Penderghast has left for him. The book supposedly prevents the girl from raising the dead.

Thanks to Alvin’s intervention, Norman is not able to do the ritual before sundown of the designated day, and thus the deceased townsfolk are liberated from their graves and the girl witch, now with enormous power, also is set loose.

Through twists of fate, Norman finds himself with an unlikely group of allies to help him save the town from the curse: Alvin, Neil, Neil’s teenage brother Mitch (Casey Affleck) and Norman’s teenage sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick).

“ParaNorman” explores the lessons of accepting those who are different, the value of kindness and forgiveness and the dangers of mob mentality. And although it is being marketed as a movie for children, it definitely has a Gothic horror quality, not to mention some gross moments, that would make this film too intense for really young children. Directors Butler and Fell in pre-release interviews said they did not want to back away from the scary aspects, saying it was a safe way for young audiences to experience the emotion of fear.

“Avengers” return is planned
“The Avengers” superhero sequel will be hitting the theaters on May 1, 2015,
according to Disney and its Marvel Studios unit.

Joss Whedon will be back to write and direct the sequel, which has not been titled yet. Expected to appear will be the Marvel heroes Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth). There was no word on whether Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) or Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) will be back, but it seems likely.

Before then, Marvel will be offering follow-up films: Downey’s “Iron Man 3″ is due out
May 2013, followed by Hemsworth’s “Thor” sequel in November 2013 and
Evans’ “Captain America” sequel in April 2014.

Some notable DVD releases
This week: “Chimpanzee” and “The Dictator.”
“Battleship,” one of the early summer releases — late spring actually — and a box office disappointment, will be coming out Aug. 28
Sept. 4 will see the release of what has to be a cheesy affair, “Piranha 3DD,” while the Jason Statham action movie “Safe” is also due out that day.
“Snow White and the Huntsman,” getting a lot of publicity of late because of the reported fling between star Kristen Stewart and director Rupert Sanders, will be out on DVD on Sept. 11.
“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” an upbeat romance movie for the older generation, will be out on Sept. 18, as will be another Joss Whedon-written thriller, “The Cabin in the Woods.”
And in early October, in time for Halloween: “Dark Shadows” on Oct. 2 and “The Raven” on Oct. 9.

‘Bourne’ reboot needs to break from mold; Streep, Jones superb in ‘Hope Springs’

If “The Bourne Legacy” is a reboot of the successful trilogy that
featured Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, will subsequent movies, like the
book series, continue to use Bourne in the title?

Given what Jason Bourne had to go through the three previous films,
“Identity,” Supremacy” and “Ultimatum,” he seems to be deserving of a
peaceful retirement. So now we have Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), yet
another skilled and genetically upgraded professional
assassin/operative.

The U.S. government just cannot resist dispatching these super
operatives out into the world. The government does have a winning
card — these people have been very successful, particularly in
thwarting terrorist activities, but as the Jason Bourne episodes
dramatically showed, things can go awry.

The contingency plan is a nasty one. You don’t just recall these people,
give them a hefty severance and generous pension and tell them to disappear
into a sublime retirement. You literally pull the plug — on their lives.

When that pesky reporter Simon Ross continues to expose the details
of Operation Blackbriar and Project Treadstone — the plans that
unleashed Bourne and others — the directive goes out from Eric Byer
(Edward Norton), a retired Air Force colonel now buried within the
bowels of U.S. covert headquarters, to terminate the project. Byer
has that perpetual disease of covert operations leaders — he would
rather wipe out the program, erasing lives in the process, rather
than face a congressional hearing.

Meanwhile, Cross is in the unforgiving wilderness of Alaska,
training and serving as a lab rat, taking body- and mind-enhancing
drugs and submitting occasional blood samples. Suddenly a drone
appears and blows up the cabin where he was enjoying some R&R. Now
short on drugs, with the supply being blown to smithereens, Cross
heads south the main part of the continent to re-up his meds.

Elsewhere, one of the scientists conducting research on Cross and
others, Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), sees her world thrown into
disarray when one of her colleagues goes berserk, shoots up the lab,
killing several co-workers, before committing suicide. As if that is
not enough, Marta soon discovers she is a target for termination.
Luckily, Cross shows up. Shearing had done some lab workups on him,
and he assumes she can get him more meds.

“The Bourne Legacy” is an example of the new genre — the
techno-action adventure. These films include lots of footage of
people in dark, windowless rooms loaded with computer monitors and
communications gadgetry, dominated by big screens. These rooms and
the people in them are plugged into the world. From there they
seemingly can track down anybody, anywhere.

“Legacy” becomes a chase movie as Cross and Shearing try to outrun a
techno-aided posse, including super-assassin LARX #3 (Louis Ozawa
Changchien), as they race to the Philippines, where Shearing can make
Cross permanently upgraded but without the pills.

“The Bourne Legacy” features the usual inner sanctum suits — Stacy
Keach, Scott Wilson and David Straitharn — working feverishly on
damage control, being outwitted by a guy carrying a backpack. This is
a cookie-cooker action flick, highly predictable.

Renner has the exceptional physical prowess to be Aaron Cross.
Let’s hope that in subsequent movies in the series he is given more
to do than run for his life.

On a more gentle track is the baby boomer romantic comedy “Hope
Springs.” It is a familiar story of an aging couple, after three
decades of marriage, in a daily rut with the passion and excitement
of young love being a distant and fading memory.

What makes “Hope Springs” a delight is the pairing of two well
established pros — Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones — as the
couple. Based on a down-to-earth script by Vanessa Taylor, who
interestingly is currently busy as a producer and writer for “Game of
Thrones,” “Hope Springs” is an actors’ delight and few in the
business today can produce the silent nuances in performances like
Streep and Jones.

They are perfectly cast as Arnold and Kay, Omaha-based and married
31 years, now empty-nesters. He is an accountant who in the evening
falls asleep in front of the TV, which is broadcasting a golf
instruction program. Kay works in a clothing store and dutifully
cooks meals. They have long stopped sleeping together. Their
anniversary gifts usually are home maintenance products.

As the movie begins, Streep shows why she is the most nominated
actor in Academy Awards history. She is in her bathroom, trying to
primp herself up, hoping for a night of intimacy with Arnold, a real
break in the routine. Yet in her face you can see Kay’s anticipation
and anxiety — an almost imperceptible concession this is going to be
a failure.

Later, in a bookstore, Kay comes across a marriage counseling book
by Dr. Feld (Steve Carell), who also offers intense counseling
sessions. Kay makes an appointment for a week-long set of sessions
with Dr. Feld and buys plane tickets to Maine, where Dr. Feld is
based.

Naturally, Arnold wants nothing to do with going to see this shrink,
but Kay is adamant about going — alone if need be. So Arnold joins
her, but obviously his heart is not in it.

The best scenes in “Hope Springs” are when Arnold and Kay are in
session with Dr. Feld. They are seated on opposite ends of a couch,
and viewers must dart their eyes back and forth to catch the
reactions by the two people to the various comments. Carell deserves
a lot of credit for a low-key performance. Here he is in an emcee
mode, his embarrassingly probing and intimate questions serving as
stimuli to let two incredible actors play off each other.

Streep’s Kay is a woman who never really felt sexy and in fact had
no experience beyond the fundamentals of lovemaking. Now all she
wants is to have Arnold love her like he did before.

Jones here excels as the stoic man who thinks life is just fine. In
fact he may think of himself as a mature person now, not obsessed
with sex — only to learn that instead of evolving into lovemaking
beyond sex he just cut it out altogether, oblivious of an already
insecure wife now anxious she is not attractive to him anymore.

There are awkward scenes as Arnold and Kay try to reignite the
sparks — scenes that are both funny, squirm-inducing, and sometimes
sad.

The success of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” has shown that
romantically-oriented stories geared toward an older crowd can find
an audience. With two grand old stars like Streep and Jones, you get
a superbly acted movie in “Hope Springs” that is deeply honest and
ultimately optimistic.

‘Total Recall’ lives in shadow of original

To say that the movie industry is remake and sequel happy is an
understatement. Often too cautious to bankroll new, possibly
groundbreaking material, studios are sold on rehashing old projects
that worked. Why takes chances?

This, of course, sets up the movie world for criticism, and
certainly discourages undiscovered writers out there who have
wonderful stories that could be turned into great films.
No doubt, with all the money at stake, movie financiers opt to take
the safe route, settling for the security of a guaranteed return,
absorbing the critical barbs in the process.

“Total Recall” is a movie that could have done just fine without a
remake. Based on a short story by the brilliant Philip K. Dick, the
original 1990 release cashed in on the enormous star power of Arnold
Schwarzenegger. Never a great actor by any means, Schwarzenegger
possessed a colossal presence on the screen. He actually looked like
he could inflict great damage on his foes. In addition, “Total
Recall” offered Schwarzenegger a chance to portray vulnerability and
puzzlement, to have to react to things way out of his control.

Now, 22 years later, Colin Farrell has been asked to step in for
Arnold, playing the lead role of Douglas Quaid in the new “Total
Recall.”

In a post-chemical-warfare world, there are only two habitable
areas left on Earth — England, where the elite and powerful United
British Federation thrives, and The Colony, on the former Australian
continent — in the Dick short story and original movie, The Colony
was on Mars. The Colony is where the oppressed, cheap labor live.

Quaid, haunted by a recurring nightmare in which he is some sort of
operative, lives in The Colony with his wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale),
who seems to be an important part of the UBF security force.

This is clearly an interesting marriage. Lori appears to be much
higher on the social ladder than Doug, who every day has to board
what appears to be a massive elevator that drops through the core of
the Earth to the UBF. There, he is a drone, working on an assembly
line that produces synthetic armed personnel — soldiers and police.
Why Lori’s good standing with the UBF does not help Doug get better
work or the couple better living conditions is not explained — and
Doug apparently cannot figure this out either, or he would be a
little more suspicious of this arrangement.

Nevertheless, Doug is a restless spirit, wanting more out of life.
Denied a promotion, he goes out one night to try Rekall, a company
that offers mind implants to enable the user to mentally indulge in
fantasies. Something goes wrong, as there is more to Doug than even
he realizes. Application of the Rekall procedure somehow unlocks some
chemically induced memory suppressors, and it turns out Doug is
actually some sort of highly skilled operative, just like he dreamed.

This, of course, puts him at odds with his wife, and the best part
of the movie is unleashed as Lori tosses aside the loyal wife act and
becomes a tenacious assassin, with Doug in her sights.

Meanwhile, the UBF, with the sinister Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) in
charge, is dealing with a rebel uprising among The Colony
inhabitants, lead by Matthias (Bill Nighy), seeking to end to
financial and social oppression of The Colony.

Doug spends a good portion of the movie trying to outrun the
bulldogged pursuit of Lori, who has an endless supply of police,
synthetic soldiers and artillery at hand. It is a treat to watch
Beckinsale, borrowing some of her physical prowess from her
“Underworld” movies, be a deadly nemesis to Doug.

Luckily, Doug finds he has allies, mostly in Melina (Jessica Biel),
who turns out to be the woman in his recurring dream — somebody with
whom he had some sort of relationship previously.

In between dodging Lori’s vicious arsenal, Doug tries to figure out
just who he is. And with people playing mind games with him,
including Harry (Bokeem Woodbine), a factory co-worker and drinking
buddy, he has all kinds of stimuli to sort out. In the end we never
really know who Doug is, or what function he served at UBF that made
him such a threat that his mind was essentially erased.

Farrell, under the burden of filling in some big shoes, has the
physical chops to take on the role and adequately conveys a man
suddenly presented with some mind-boggling revelations about his
existence and what he thought his life entailed.

Beckinsale steals the movie as Lori, however. She is nasty but
beautiful — a real cold-hearted agent of mayhem. She makes it
evident that her love for and loyalty to Doug was not sincere, and
when she learns who he really is, she is determined to dispense with
orders from above to bring Doug in alive.

Biel also shows some excellent moves in brutal engagements — she
and Beckinsale duke it out in an elevator in a wonderfully
choreographed slug- and kickfest.

Cranston appears to savor an opportunity to play the power-mad
villain, with most of his dialogue used to insert the verbal needle
into the seemingly vanquished Doug. Nighy has a very small role for
an actor of his stature, mostly resorting to his calm dignity to
provide some meat to his brief on-screen appearance.

“Total Recall” would be better appreciated had it been an original.
It does, however, benefit from the great progress over the last 20
years of special effects and set designs, with stunning visuals of
the UBF, The Colony and the eerie abandoned and contaminated areas of
Earth.

Vernor’s Ticket tidbit:
Dwight Frye (1899-1943), who will always be
remembered for his roles of the tragic Renfield in “Dracula” (1931)
and the hunchbacked assistant Fritz in “Frankenstein” (1931),
struggled in his later career. His roles in subsequent Universal
Studios horror films grew smaller. Eventually, he landed a job with
Lockheed during the war and even turned down an opportunity to take
on the role of Alexander Hamilton in a Broadway production of “The
Patriots,” in part because of his obligations to help the war effort
at Lockheed. Much like the tragic characters he is remembered for,
Frye died young — of a heart attack — right at the time he had been cast
to play Secretary of War Newton D. Baker in the Darryl F. Zanuck
production of “Wilson.” Likely, upon Frye’s death, the role of Newton
was cut down, as Reginald Sheffield played the role in the movie,
uncredited. “Wilson,” although critically acclaimed, winning five
Academy Awards in technical and writing categories, was a box-office
flop. A biography of Woodrow Wilson just did not fire up audiences in
the 1940s.