American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
The two biggest differences between this new "Total Recall" and the 1990 original are that no scenes are set on Mars, and it stars Colin Farrell instead of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mars we can do without, I suppose, although I loved the special effects creating the human outpost there. This movie has its own reason you can't go outside and breathe the air.
But Schwarzenegger, now, is another matter. He's replaced as the hero Quaid by Colin Farrell, who in point of fact is probably the better actor. But Schwarzenegger is more of a movie presence and better suited for the role of a wounded bull stumbling around in the china shop of his memories. The story involves a man who is involved without his knowledge (or recollection) in a conflict between a totalitarian regime and a resistance movement. Both films open with him happy and cluelessly married (to Sharon Stone in the first, Kate Beckinsale in this one). In both, he is discontented with his life. In both, he discovers that everything he thinks he knows about himself is fictitious, and all of his memories have been implanted.
The enormity of this discovery is better reflected by Schwarzenegger, who seems more wounded, more baffled, more betrayed — and therefore more desperate. In the Farrell performance, there's more of a sense that the character is being swept along with the events.
The ingenuity of the plot, inspired by a Philip K. Dick story, is handled well in this version, directed by Len Wiseman, and in Paul Verhoeven's 1990 version. In both, there are passages in which Quaid has no idea what to believe and must decide which of various characters can be trusted. Both films are top-heavy with non-stop action, but there's more humanity in the earlier one, and I think we care more about the hero. A film that really took this premise seriously would probably play more like Christopher Nolan's "Memento," following a man adrift in his own timeline.