Total Recall (1990)

Total Recall (1990) – I have said before I am an unabashed fan of the cinematic works of one Mr. Arnold Schwarzenegger (his gubernatorial works, less so). You ever notice the noises he makes when he’s supposed to be in some kind of physical duress? NO HUMAN BEING MAKES THOSE NOSIES! It is ridiculously entertaining to watch. Add into that his tendency to toss off more pre-kill one-liners than James Bond and an accent that hasn’t gone away after over forty years of living in the United States and you got star power. (Oh yeah, having the physique of a former multi-time Mr. Universe helps too.) Plus you ever notice that despite the Austrian accent he always plays characters with totally American-sounding names like “Slater” or “Richards?” I grew up in the late eighties and the nineties. Arnold was the man. Beyond his over-the-top suspension-of-disbelief-requiring performances though, he seemed to be drawn to really cool movies like The Terminator or The Running Man. 1990’s Total Recall paired him with Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, most famous for the 1987 film RoboCop a deliriously ultraviolent film loaded with tongue-in-cheek satire. They were adapting the short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” by Phillip K. Dick, the man whose novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? had previously been adapted to Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece Blade Runner. Do you really need to ask whether I like this movie or not?

Douglas Quaid (Schwarzenegger) is a construction worker leading an ordinary life with his gorgeous wife Lori (Sharon Stone). He keeps having dreams about being on Mars with a strange exotic woman (Rachel Ticotin) and is plagued by general feelings of restlessness, like his life should be more somehow. Unable to afford a real trip to Mars Quaid visits Recall, a company that implants false memories of vacations for clients. Something goes wrong in the procedure though as Quaid’s fantasy of being a spy on Mars seems to conflict with his actual memories of being a spy on Mars. Quaid leaves Recall confused when his best friend (Robert Costanzo) tries to kill him, but he expertly dispatches his would-be attackers. He goes home to see Lori… and she tries to kill him too! Plus a bunch of goons (led by the always-terrifying Michael Ironside) are also, you guessed it, TRYING TO KILL HIM! He soon receives a video message from… himself! Video Quaid tells Quaid that he is, in fact, not really Quaid but a man named Hauser and that he works for Martian tyrant Vilos Cohaagen (Ronny Cox) and helping the Resistance. Hauser tells Quaid he needs to get his ass to Mars!

Total Recall is a ridiculous amount of fun. It got characterized as the “thinking man’s action movie” back when it came out. That might be pushing it a bit. It does however have a delightful ambiguity about what is or isn’t “real” in the movie. Quaid wants to be a secret agent on Mars and then goes on to do just that… coincidence? Residual memories? The procedure working exactly the way it’s supposed to? You never really know for sure, and that’s kind of awesome. (I do think it’s telling though that Arnold’s “real” name, Hauser, actually sounds German.) The special effects are pretty great for this movie and a testament to why pre-CGI techniques should not be abandoned (and I’m not just talking about the Martian hooker with three tits). There is one character, Benny the cab driver (Mel Johnson Jr.), who I somehow never noticed before was about as nuanced a racial depiction as the crows in Dumbo. Small gripe though (especially given one of the character’s later scenes). If you like your ambiguous ultraviolent sci fi action flicks featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger at his prime, you owe it to yourself to see Total Recall.

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