Total Recall (1990)

Total Recall is the good kind of sci-fi thriller. It’s smart, action-packed, has fantastical technology, keeps you thinking and on your toes, and is paced almost perfectly. It stars Arnold Schwarzenegger in the lead role, playing a man named Douglas Quaid, a construction worker who, despite living far in the future, still has to work up a sweat at his job. I guess robot technology can only come so far. He dreams nightly about heading to Mars and meeting a mysterious woman, despite already being married to Lori (Sharon Stone).

On the train one day, because public transportation is the way of the future, he notices an advertisement for a company named Rekall, which claims that Rekall is able to implant false memories inside your head, making you feel as if you really experienced them. You can make yourself believe that anything possible happened in your past. Of course, Quaid wants to take the best possible vacation to Mars (in his mind), so he gets all ready for a procedure, strapped into the chair, and put into an unconscious state. And that’s when things go wrong. Or do they?

See, in the middle of the procedure, Quaid wakes up, screaming about how everyone’s going to die. It turns out, his memory had previously been erased and that he is actually a man named Hauser, a secret agent. When Quaid wakes up, things in his “real” life are not as they seem—it turns out that his “wife” is planted at that they’ve only lived together for a few weeks, not a few years like he remembers—and he ends up heading to Mars in order to save the planet from its evil dictator, Cohaagen (Ronny Cox).

You’re wondering now why there is any doubt that any of this is happening. Well, before the memory implantation began, Quaid was given the opportunity to make his vacation to Mars even better than the typical one. He paid extra for the “Secret Agent” package, wherein he would be able to undergo a fantasy straight out of a Bond novel. This whole buried memory, secret agent thing seems to fit perfectly with the fantasy he paid extra for. We spend the whole film wondering whether this is really happening, or simply the memory that he’s going to end up with upon his awakening.

Do we get an answer? Not really. At least, not from where I’m sitting. There are hints in both directions, and depending on the way you want to interpret it, you’ll get more evidence supporting whether it’s real or not, but for the most part, it’s ambiguous. There are multiple twists throughout that sway you one way or another, but by the end, I didn’t even care anymore.

While not featuring any memorable performances, Total Recall is a very enjoyable science fiction movie.

That’s not a criticism, mind, it’s just that I found the game the film played with us to be too much. Whether it’s a dream or not, we still get to experience everything, and that’s what really matters. You can argue that it would be important if the main character was one we could latch onto, but considering this is an action-thriller starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, are you really expecting that. Schwarzenegger has no depth to his performance, although he does show bewilderment, which is about the bare minimum he could get away with and still lead a successful film.

Strong performances don’t particularly matter, anyway. We’re here for the action, for the futuristic cityscapes and technology, and for the three-breasted lady. Okay, maybe we’re not here for the final one, but she is in this film, and you will take notice. Why? Well, I’m not going to paint a picture for you, but suffice to say that she makes an impression. So do the other things, really, but if there’s one thing you’ll talk about after the movie that isn’t whether or not the whole thing was a dream, it’ll be her.

Total Recall does look quite good, and if all you want to do is look at some pretty visions of the future—on Mars, no less—then you owe it to yourself to watch this movie. There’s only one scene of very obvious CGI, which looks quite good, by the way, and the rest of the visual effects are blended almost seamlessly, making sure you don’t notice them. Some movies look bad and have effects that jump out and say “Hey, look at me!” This isn’t one of those.

The action is nicely staged and is always entertaining. Much of the film is composed of chase scenes, which, in the hands of a lesser director than Paul Verhoeven, would grow tiresome. They’re kept feeling fresh here, and thanks to that and the relentless pacing, I never grew tired of the film. There’s also a sense of humor to the whole thing, and there are more than a few moments where you’ll burst out laughing—and then you’ll sit back and enjoy another 20 minutes of action.

While not featuring any memorable performances, Total Recall is a very enjoyable science fiction movie. It is paced so as to not allow you a moment to breathe, it imagines the future with a very clear vision, it has a lot of chase scenes which all feel different from the ones before and after, and the visual effects are great, never drawing attention to themselves. I don’t know if it’s a must watch, but I definitely enjoyed myself and would recommend it for anyone wanting an action or science fiction film.

Conclusion: Total Recall is a very enjoyable science fiction movie.

Recommendation: If you want a smart action sci-fi, Total Recall will fit the bill.

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