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Total Recall
1990 - R - 113 Mins.
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Producer: Buzz Feitshans, Ronald Shusett
Written By: Gary Goldman, Dan O'Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Ronny Cox, Michael Ironside
Review by: John Ulmer
   

It's me, Arnold! No, I swear! I had plastic surgery! Like the result?
Part of what has established Arnold Schwarzenegger as the highest-grossing action star of all time (and the most likable, too) is his charisma -- and acting skill, something often overlooked and almost laughed at when audiences think of the muscle man. But his versatile acting skill shines through in "Total Recall," which is a totally un-crafted role for him to play. But he allowed his typical macho man persona to crumble for once, and in return he made one of the top five films of his career, both financially and literally. Roger Ebert writes about "Total Recall": "The performance [by Schwarzenegger] is one of the reasons the movie works so well."

And I agree.

Oh, yes, he's still got the accent, which is the primary reason so many people claim he's a bad actor -- just because he has a "funny accent." But what I often find humorous is the fact that almost all of the people who criticize Arnold for stupidity and his thick accent are the same individuals who only speak a single language. Arnold may sound silly, but how many people do you know who grew up in a strict environment in Austria, moved to America, learned English, became the most successful bodybuilder of all time (and the most iconic), invested in real estate, made the successful transition to mega superstar (where he could have easily failed but managed to become the highest-paid action star of all time), and then became governor?

Not many.

Sitting through "Total Recall" for the gazillionth time recently, I wondered how Sly Stallone or Bruce Willis would have done in the role. Both are good actors, given the right material ("Rocky" and "Die Hard" ring clearly in mind), but Arnold is the type of leading action man who can bend himself around to fit a role perfectly. In "Total Recall," he plays the role of an everyman who may not be the everyman he thinks he is, which is part of what helps the film.

They nearly cast Patrick Swayze. He had to drop out when the film went into bankruptcy in pre-production. A bit later, Paul Verhoeven helmed the picture and cast Arnold, who he had had lunch with beforehand, right after the release of "RoboCop." "I saw 'RoboCop,'" Arnie said. "You're my kind of director. We need to get together sometime and make a movie."

So they did. And we got "Total Recall," a real thinking man's action thriller in the sense of the meaning; a film that defies all convention and has so many twists and turns you almost forget you're watching an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.

And here's a little known fact: "Total Recall" is the prequel to Tom Cruise's "Minority Report." Both were short stories written by Phillip K. Dick. There was almost a "Total Recall 2" made a few years back with Arnie, Stone, and Verhoeven, too, but it was never funded and eventually Steven Spielberg got his hands on the material.

How could they possibly be related to one another? The mutated psychics from Mars that Arnie sees in "Total Recall" are the original "precogs" from "Minority Report" (2002); in Dick's story, they were the beings capable of seeing into the future. This was changed a bit for the motion picture.

But enough of a lecture on the film's background.

In the future, circa 2020, after Mars has been colonized and Martian colonies have been constructed, Douglas Quaid (Schwarzenegger) is an average Joe working back on Earth with his wife (Stone). Quaid wants to move to the red planet, but his wife does not, and so he only has his strange dreams of Mars to look forward to every night.

Then, one day, Doug decides to go to Total Rekall (spelled with a "k"), an establishment that implants manifested memories for a price. Rekall offers Doug a free memory of Mars travel, and so he agrees. But halfway during the implantation process, Doug snaps out of his trance and yells, "My name is not Quaid!" before being knocked out by the staff members and having his body dumped in the back seat of a local Johnny Cab (a robot-powered taxi).

Soon Doug finds his co-workers and wife trying to kill him, strange assassins chasing him down dark alleyways and through airport terminals, and a strangely familiar woman enticing him to come to Mars. What does it all mean? The truth may kill him.

Thirty-five various sets were built to contain the Mars backdrops of "Total Recall," each costing somewhere within the vicinity of $100,000 - $300,000. It paid off big-time, winning the film an Oscar for special achievement in 1991. If the Academy had been smart enough, they would have nominated Paul Verhoeven for Best Director, because he is part of the crucial mixture of "Total Recall."

It's an ultra-violent film. Sometimes it's not as violent visually as it is metaphorically speaking. It *feels* very violent, and more often than not is, but as with Verhoeven's first mainstream effort ("RoboCop") and sad attempt at tongue-in-cheek sci-fi ("Starship Troopers"), "Total Recall" seems very brutal, energetic, and violent. There's a very bruising atmosphere about the film that is unmistakable and only place able as a Verhoeven masterpiece.

Verhoeven hit a slump in his career later on. His over-the-top, excessive filmmaking style brought us "Showgirls," "Starship Troopers" and "Hollow Man," all of these films very strong in their own field (the former of the two a strong NC-17 picture).

Still, there's no mistaking that Verhoeven was indeed a great director at one point in his mainstream Hollywood career. The eccentric Dutch man has created some of the most famous and wonderful films of all time (my personal favorites being this and "RoboCop"), never fearing to push the boundaries of science fiction and bloody violence.

Films with as much style and energy as "Total Recall" are a true rarity. It may not be as comically witty as "RoboCop" (1987), but that's not to say it isn't smart. This is a thinking man's thriller done right, topped by an overlooked performance and a visionary director at the helm. Don't shrug it off as another Arnold movie until you see it. The film will be, as the tagline so adequately put it, "the ride of your life."
 
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

 
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