You are not you. You're me.
Total Recall is directed by Paul Verhoeven and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Rachel Ticotin, Ronny Cox, and Michael Ironside. The movie is loosely based on the short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" by Philip K. Dick.
A large number of sci-fi films lend themselves to be labeled as what I like to call head-trip movies, movies that are so weird in their storytelling that most of the time you simply ask yourself, "What the hell is going on?" But it's not always an angry, frustrated connotation behind the question of "What the hell is going on?" Sometimes, "What the hell is going on?" means, "I am confused, but yet, I remain highly interested and curious to see more", and that is the type of "What the hell is going on?" that Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall evokes. It is a very weird movie, but the good kind of weird.
For one, Total Recall is a movie that is fast and fun entertainment on top of being a head-trip sci-fi film, so if by some chance that you decide to give up on trying to understand even a little bit of the story, there's lots of fun action to get you through til the end. And besides action, you've got Arnold. What more could you want in a film than an in-his-prime Arnold Schwarzenegger?
In Total Recall, Schwarzenegger plays Douglas Quaid, a construction worker who is having mysterious dreams about being on Mars and getting together with a woman (Racehl Ticotin) there. Quaid's wife, Lori (Sharon Stone), encourages Quaid to not let the dreams get to him. One day, Quaid goes to a company called Rekall, which provides vacation memory implants to its customers. Quaid requests for a memory trip to Mars, where he will pose as a secret agent. However, the procedure goes amiss, as Quaid begins to recall suppressed memories of him actually being a secret agent on Mars. While on his way home, Quaid is attacked by a group of men, and then later attacked at home by Lori. Lori reveals that she isn't really Quaid's wife, but is instead someone who was sent by Mars governor Vilos Cohaagen (Ronny Cox) to monitor Quaid. Quaid escapes and makes his way to Mars, where he learns of a rebellion going on by the people of Mars against Cohaagen.
Up through 1990, Schwarzenegger's track record of sci-fi and action films consisted of films that are relatively straightforward in regards to plot details. Yes, I am including the first Terminator because it was not until after Terminator 2 that that franchise went to shambles. That being said, Schwarzenegger is seemingly out of place in a film like this, because you never saw heavy-duty action stars back in the day like Stallone, Bruce Willis, or Harrison Ford star in these kind of films that featured extreme weirdness, stemming from a plot that will make your head explode if you think about it too much. But at the same time, Schwarzenegger sort of opened up the door for action stars to feel comfortable starring in these kind of movies, such later examples being Tom Cruise in Minority Report and Bruce Willis in Looper, two other sci-fi movies that are right at home in the head-trip movie genre. So in a way, this movie was a bit of a risk for Schwarzenegger, because his brawny frame alone was not going to be enough to make the movie work.
- Schwarzenegger delivers what I believe to be one of his most underrated performances. He successfully portrays Douglas Quaid as the vulnerable man that Quaid is, confused about what is happening to him and his memories, and why there are gun-wielding baddies chasing after him. Quaid has no time to sit down and try to decipher the mystery going on around him, because he is forced to always be on the run, an occurrence that lends itself to blood-soaked action. While this isn't the first time that Schwarzenegger has shown vulnerability in his hero role, this is probably the first example of Schwarzenegger portraying an action film protagonist that is forced to think on his feet. He can't ever catch a break, and this always keeps the film moving.
- Despite all of the violence, gore, and general mayhem, Total Recall retains a sense of humor, as evident in a package of hilarious Arnold-style one liners. You'll likely be reiterating a quote or two from this movie, because that's the magic of Schwarzenegger humor.
- I'm at a loss trying to think up a legitimate low point for Total Recall. I'm not going to knock on the plot at all because being a weird head-scratcher isn't enough to immediately claim the story as bad. Like I said before, Total Recall embodies a good type of weird, and it has more assets like Schwarzenegger to its name than just its bizarre storytelling.
And just because I can't think up a specific low point doesn't automatically mean that I find Total Recall to be any kind of masterpiece. It's bloody, good fun, and Arnold delivers more of his usual charm while also delivering one of his better performances, though this isn't anything groundbreaking in film history. What Total Recall is is an early example of a head-trip sci-fi movie that thrives not only on story smarts, but also on kinetic action, a combo that other action stars would jump in on down the road. Whoever said you can't mix brainy sci-fi and gory action?
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: