Ignore Colin Farrell, the star of "Total Recall," for a second. Forget director Len Wiseman too, even though the fellow redeems himself for those execrable "Underworld" movies.

The name you need to take away from the nifty B-movie remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi extravaganza is Patrick Tatopoulos, the absolute star of the new "Total Recall." He's the production designer and, yes, I know, that the great production designers in movies are not exactly household words at your crib.

You know what? They ought to be. See "Total Recall" if you want proof.

Tatopoulos was also the production designer of "Independence Day" and "Dark City," so that should tell you all you need to know about how gifted this guy is.

Unlike Paul Verhoeven's Schwarzenegger steroid fantasy, the budget doesn't look as if it went through the roof (even if $200 million is one heck of a high roof) which is why the whole thing has the appealing, rough-and-ready lack of ambition we always associate with B-movies.

But it's the look of this new "Total Recall" that is, quite literally, stunning. It's a world as congested as Hong Kong or Tokyo (think of Ridley Scott's all-time classic version of a Philip K. Dick fantasy "Blade Runner") in which everything in the city is conceived vertically except for the air spaces the cars fly in.

It's dark, dirty-looking, teeming and constricted, with almost every square inch indicating that machines take precedence over people and people are mostly cogs in a machine.

I'll grant you movies have been imagining such places since Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" (if not before), but the way Tatopoulos and Wiseman (an ex-production designer) conceive of it this time makes the movie riveting to watch even when nothing special happens.

Even there, things get even worse on occasion. There are a couple of dialogue dribblings at the end whose awfulness almost any B-movie could boast of in any "can you top this" stupidity contest.

No matter. It's a dandy Saturday matinee ride at the movies that gives you action, vision, gorgeous faces (Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel) and, when they're not available, Farrell, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine and Bill Nighy.

The only things worth remembering about Verhoeven's original are: 1) that its director was returning to sci-fi after making the stunning "RoboCop" and 2) that his buddy Sharon Stone suddenly engaged Schwarzenegger in a knockdown, drag-out fight scene whose merry audience hoot potential was immense. You couldn't beat, at the time, the woman who would soon turn uncrossing her legs into cinematic immortality (she didn't know exactly where Verhoeven's camera was, she later claimed about "Basic Instinct"), suddenly flying into leg-whips and fists of fury against one of his era's reigning monarchs of steroid action.

The overdeveloped muscle boys of the 1980s and '90s were an early indication of exactly how much immature fanboys were infesting box office returns.

And that's exactly why a fight scene between "Ahnuld" and Stone was a delicious cinematic idea, worthy of inclusion in all-time movie anthologies.

It's also why Farrell -- who could act "Ahnuld" off the screen in his sleep -- makes for a much better hero, even though beauteous Beckinsale can't quite equal Stone's archetypal erotic power as a foe.

It's all based on a Dick short story again. It's about an assembly line worker who goes to a place called Rekall, where they can wipe out memories and give you new ones, after electronically taking your brain out for a electrode rinse and a vacation.

But when he does -- I think I'll take your secret agent fantasy, he says -- all hell breaks loose, bullets start flying and he discovers for real that he is actually someone or other's secret agent and up to his upraised eyebrows in his nation's nefarious plot to invade and wipe out its own colony.

The bad guy here, who's of course running the country, is Cranston of "Breaking Bad" fame. Nighy is the sainted good guy. Woodbine plays Farrell's assembly line buddy.

The women fighting over his conflicted soul are Beckinsale -- not bad as a nemesis, though Stone could probably take her in two rounds -- and Biel, whose every close-up, to steal a Duke Ellington song title, seems a fetching prelude to a kiss.

It's fast and furious and as smart as it can get away with being, while remaining dumb enough to reassure everyone. But the look of the thing is truly extraordinary and singular -- enough to give us, in Tatopoulos, a new name we all ought to be looking for in future movie credits.



3 stars (out of 4)

STARRING: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel

DIRECTOR: Len Wiseman

RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes

RATING: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity and language.

THE LOWDOWN: Man of the future tries to take his mind out for a vacation and discovers he's not who he thought he was.