Total Recall (1990) / Sci Fi-Action

MPAA Rated: R for pervasive graphic violence, sexuality, brief nudity, and language
Running Time: 113 min.

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Ronny Cox, Mel Johnson Jr., Marshall Bell, Michael Champion, Roy Brocksmith, Ray Baker, Rosemary Dunsmore
Director: Paul Verhoeven

Screenplay: Ronald Shusett, Dan O'Bannon, Gary Goldman (inspired by the short story, "We Can Remember for You Wholesale" by Philip K. Dick)
Review published December 27, 2005

A nearly unrecognizable adaptation of a classic Philip K. Dick story, Total Recall may have been re-scripted a reported 40+ times, but in the end, it still emerges as one of the best science fiction films of its era.  From outward appearances, it would seem like just another brain-dead action vehicle for Arnie (Predator, The Terminator) to blow everything up in sight, and he certainly does that, but that's just scratching the surface of what makes this a must-see movie for all sci-fi/action junkies.  It's clever, thoughtful, absorbing, and exhilarating; it delivers all the goods you could want, and then gives you a little more. 

Set on Earth of the future, where we've already mastered the ability for space travel to through the solar system, and even set up colonies on Mars, Total Recall surrounds a lowly construction worker named Douglas Quaid, who has recently been plagued by a recurring dream of being on Mars.  His doting wife (Stone, The Quick and the Dead) tells Doug it's just a dream, but there's something in the events of the dreams that makes him curious to find out more about the red planet.  Seeing an advertisement for a company called Rekall, an establishment that will implant the memory of a vacation into the mind in vivid and perfect detail, Doug decides to choose the "secret agent" package set on Mars. 

No sooner than the implanted thoughts enter his head, Doug finds himself in what he perceives to be a real-life espionage drama involving himself and his role in a Martian underground society of spies, all seeking to end the stranglehold of a megalomaniac corporate businessman named Cohaagen (Cox, Beverly Hills Cop).  Fighting for his life, Doug makes his way to Mars to try to uncover the secret to who he really is, but not everything is what it seems to be, both on Mars and in his mind.

Director Paul Verhoeven (Hollow Man, Starship Troopers) pulls out all stops in this ultra-violent and action-packed rollercoaster ride of a movie that never lets up for a second.  It's tightly edited, always moving forward, with more than a few nifty twists to keep the plot mercurial enough to be fascinating.  The violence is often gratuitous, and in many cases, quite graphic, but as Verhoeven did so well in Robocop, the humorous tone is always maintained in a way that tempers the impact of the bloodiness.  Perhaps a few things are excessive -- the scenes with humans exposed to the air-less environs of Mars are ridiculously overdone -- but given the fantastical nature of the presentation, it seems disingenuous to nitpick about a few inconsistencies in physics and logic.

If you aren't squeamish about heavy doses of violence, Total Recall gets a high recommendation for fans of action and science fiction adventures.  Easily Schwazenergger's best non-Terminator film (apologies to Predator fans), this one will probably be in any collection among those that consider themselves to be his biggest fans.  You may not be able to take a trip to Mars, but after watching Total Recall, the memory of living out an adventure as a secret agent in a world of danger is well worth the film's rental price to implant.

-- Remade in 2012

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo