Reviewed by: Brett Willis
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Ronny Cox | Director: Paul Verhoeven | Producers: Mario Kassar, Andrew Vajna, Buzz Feitshans, Ronald Shusett, Elliott Schick, Robert Fentress | Screenplay/Story: Ronald Shusett, Dan O'Bannon, Jon Povill and Gary Goldman, from the short story “We can Remember it for you Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick | Released By: TriStar
With a story by Philip K. Dick (“Blade Runner,” “Minority Report”), adapted by the writers of “Alien,” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (“Terminator”) and with Paul Verhoeven (“Robocop,” “Starship Troopers”) at the helm, one would expect an extremely violent flick that’s also full of twists and mind games. And that’s just what “Total Recall” is.
It’s the future, after the colonization of the solar system by rival “Northern” and “Southern” coalitions. A lowly earthbound construction worker, Doug Quaid (Schwarzenegger), has a recurring nightmare about Mars, a dark-complected brunette (Rachel Ticotin), and suffocating. His wife Lori (Sharon Stone) is “jealous” of the dream. When Doug watches the news about a workers’ rebellion on Mars, she switches channels and tries to change the subject.
Somewhat obsessed with the dream, Doug goes to “Rekall, Inc.” to get an implanted memory of an imaginary vacation to Mars. Several people—his wife, his co-worker Harry, and even the Rekall salesman—try (somewhat suspiciously) to impede him in this pursuit. But since his mind is made up—he’s going to buy an artificial vacation, and he wants the subject to be Mars—the salesman goes into bonus mode and persuades Doug to pay extra for an “ego trip” vacation; instead of going as a tourist, he can go as someone else. Doug picks “Secret Agent.” Again the salesman seems less than enthusiastic, but eventually he hypes this particular trip (and in so doing, gives us a broad outline of the rest of the film).
After choosing the appearance of his “love interest” from a menu (she looks like the girl in his dream), Doug is hooked up to the memory machine. Next thing we know, the Rekall staff are trying to get Doug—who’s still in the machine—back from a psychotic attack. The attendant explains that Doug has really been to Mars, he has erased memories, and the Rekall package has partially reawakened them. From this point on, Doug is pursued by a host of bad guys intent on killing him. Almost none of the principal characters in the film are what they at first appear to be. Seeking the truth, Doug travels to the Red Planet in disguise and finds himself at the center of a fight between the political bosses of Mars (played by Ronny Cox and Michael Ironside) and the ordinary working people. There’s also an alien angle to the story.
The film plays with viewers’ heads on at least two levels. One, we don’t know who is playing it straight and who is a traitor. Two, we don’t know whether what we’re seeing is (a) “real”, (b) a Rekall memory that’s playing out as planned, (c) a Rekall memory that’s turned into a schizoid embolism. Any of the three explanations is possible.
Content Warnings: There’s extreme violence, including the killing of innocent bystanders. Plenty of gunplay, some severed limbs, suffocation in the rarefied Martian atmosphere, and Schwarzenegger “dark humor.” We’re also treated to a hand-to-hand fight between Stone’s and Ticotin’s characters. The language is extreme. There’s incidental partial nudity in an opening bedroom scene between Schwarzenegger and Stone, and some special-effects nudity on Mars (a mutant woman who flaunts her three breasts).
Aside from the plot and the violence, it’s interesting to see how the director and set decorators chose to portray the future: some things far advanced, other things indistinguishable from today.
This is a good example of Ah-nold in peak form. If you suspend disbelief, it could also be classified as a thriller. One thing it definitely is not: family entertainment.