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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 28.57%
Average: 14.29%
Pretty Bad: 2.86%
Total Crap: 2.86%

1 review, 64 user ratings

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Total Recall (1990)
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by Justin Helmer

"Arnold acts...after a fashion."
4 stars

Total Recall is a movie that can't decide how seriously it wants to be taken. It is loosely based (I believe the credit actually says "inspired by") on a short story by Phillip K. Dick, called "We Can Remember it for You Wholesale." It concerns itself with questions of identity and reality, and more visceral delights like huge exploding squibs, and tri-breasted alien hookers. All I can tell you is, this is what happens when Arnold Schwarzenegger and Paul Verhoven decide to go cerebral. I have also found over the years that it's one of those rare action movies that actually benefits from repeated viewings.

Total Recall tells the story of Douglas Quaid, an every-man in the ever-popular near-distant future. He has a job, a wife, and a deep sense that he's cut out for more than he is doing now. He longs to go to Mars to see the sights, and because he has been having dreams about it lately, he determines that one way or another he is going to get there. This is all spelled out in the exposition-heavy first ten or fifteen minutes of the movie, as opposed to the rest of the movie that has rather more explosions and violent death than character development. This one thing that Verhoven does really well: brutal, stylized violence that no matter how many times you see it, never fails to elicit a response. He also hires really good foley people so every attendant crunch, squish, and slap is heard and felt.

When Quaid decides that an actual trip to Mars is out of the question, for reasons the audience is never really clear on, he decides to purchase a memory of a trip from Rekall Inc. Here is where the science fiction angle (aside from being set in a nebulous gray future) comes into play. Rekall will, for a price, implant a memory of a grand trip directly into the brain, saving one the expense, trouble and time of actually going. Doug buys a Mars trip, complete with an alter-ego option that allows him to go as a secret agent. At this point the story downshifts abruptly into full action mode, the plot being more or less just a handy hook on which to hang the action and subtext. But there is subtext, which is why this movie holds up rather than becoming just another running and shooting movie.

When it opened early in the summer of 1990, Total Recall quickly became the highest grossing movie of Schwarzenegger's up to that point. It also came at the tail end of what I tend to think of as the golden-age" of Arnold; love him or hate him, he really was a product of the Reagan 80s. The classic big guns, big pecs, big swingin' dicks era of everything from politics to business to--yep--the movies. And the films he did between Conan the Barbarian (1982) and T-2: Judgment Day (1991) cemented his place as a sort of John Wayne of his era. At the sputtering tail end of all of this, he came with what is arguably one of his most nuanced performances ever captured on film, ironically enough just when the Reagan era was beginning its death rattle. Sure, it would be another four years before Clinton took the White House, but there was no way in Hell that George (HW) Bush could have kept hold of the shitstorm that Reagan left behind him.

I've always maintained that another one of the things Verhoven does quite well is play upon whatever the prevailing fears of the time happen to be. Whether it's male fear of female sexuality (Basic Instinct), government fascism (Robo-Cop, Starship Troopers) or loss of identity in a modern world (Total Recall, Hollow Man), Verhoven knows exactly what it is that plagues the psyche of the modern male animal. He has a satirist's eye but he lacks any of the necessary finesse to make a truly lasting impact; consequently his films often come off as either a mishmash of high ideas and exploding heads, or flashy knee-jerk misogyny. Neither of which I think he's going for.

In this case, the central question becomes one of identity; how you define who you are, and what that definition means in world where you can't tell what is real. If, for some reason, you miss it, Verhoven will hit you on the head with the THEME of the movie at convenient fifteen-minute intervals right up till the plot resolves itself. There's that lack of subtlety I was mentioning earlier. There is a kind of finesse in one important fashion: Total Recall never tips its most important card, the question of what is real. And that really is a minor miracle for the genre.

Where normally the plot points--like the platitudes and the punches--are telegraphed here, we have a movie that holds its central question close to the vest. This allows the viewers to make up their own minds about what is real, and this is the biggest reason that Total Recall demands further viewings.

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originally posted: 05/28/02 14:56:55
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User Comments

10/30/16 morris campbell another cool sci-fi action flick way better than T2 5 stars
3/11/15 Joe Fun action and interesting story 4 stars
8/20/12 Croweater888 'Baby, you make me wish I had three hands' 'You're doing just fine with two.' Classic. 5 stars
8/16/11 Chris F Pretty tame for Arnie but bearable just.... 3 stars
1/10/10 Jeff Wilder Good effects and entertaining story. But little in the way of drama. 3 stars
7/08/09 *Holy_J@lapeno* A great watch from the start to the finish. Movie was way ahead of its time and effects 5 stars
1/14/08 action movie fan exciting futuristic action film-very good sets and gun battles-mr pink-it,s not dated 1 bit 4 stars
9/21/07 Bitchflaps The story could have made for riveting stuff, most of the film is repetitive gun battles. 2 stars
3/30/07 fools♫gold The most thoughtful American sci-fi show concerning Mars yet. 5 stars
3/02/07 R.W.Welch Good sci-fi premise but a tad overdone. 3 stars
8/17/05 ES More like 'total-retard'= Ironside is underrated, this movie is overrated 1 stars
6/21/05 tony Very good scenes of action, but setting is no good. 3 stars
5/15/05 Indrid Cold With a deeper plot, could have been a classic. 4 stars
1/13/05 Tom Benton An excellent sci-fi actioner; clever and absorbing; Schwarzenegger is great. 4 stars
9/22/04 American Slasher Goddess Great and entertaining Sci-Fi flick. 4 stars
3/02/04 Whatevr This Schwarzenegger movie is topped only by terminator 5 stars
11/29/03 john brilliant set up, powerfull first hour but resolution never lives up to the set up 3 stars
9/25/03 Stefan Halka Well-structured storyline with great surprises made this film very enjoyable for me. 4 stars
9/10/03 Dreafre A cracking piece of visual SF, Arnie's best...?? 5 stars
6/16/03 Mr. Do The story is excellent, and the violence is a way to make this story clear. Underestimated! 5 stars
5/03/03 Gray fun+look out for big buisness messege 4 stars
4/22/03 mr. Pink Effects and style has dated (Stone's hairdo!), but it's still good and very Verhoeven 4 stars
4/01/03 Luke Skywalker I love it when their heads are blown up on Mars! 4 stars
3/22/03 Jack Sommersby Promising beginning gives way to awful follow-through. Only Stone manages to shine. 2 stars
1/21/03 .Choadushouse. Surprisingly awesome! Action is intense! Plot is full of depth! And KUATO LIVES!!! 5 stars
9/25/02 Ben Wasden A wild ride with plenty of violence, a cool catfight, and much more. 5 stars
8/05/02 Del A good movie 4 stars
7/19/02 Shams Huque "Consider that a divorce"!!! 5 stars
6/28/02 Justin Arnie's Best! 5 stars
5/29/02 Charles Tatum Big, loud, violent, and completely incomprehensible 3 stars
5/26/02 I'm in (L) with a Jedi if i am not me den who the hell am i? 3 stars
3/29/02 Evan The Critic Arnolds best film (so far), it makes you think, and theres great action, and cool effects! 5 stars
3/02/02 Alan Smithee Great pre-CGI effects, tons of blood and Sharon Stone kicking ass. 5 stars
2/27/02 Shrike One of the few great Sci-Fi films 5 stars
1/05/02 Andrew Carden A Fun Movie, but The Movie Turns For The Worst After 1 Hour. 3 stars
11/29/01 The $1.98 Pyramid Schwarzy's best. 5 stars
10/31/01 officer412/l get ready for a suprise. it's arnie.and he's in a great movie. 5 stars
10/10/01 Butterbean A stupidly complicated film with great action scenes 4 stars
9/27/01 Xerox I remember the Jerry Goldsmith opening when I was 8 back in 1990. Verhoven is da du-rek-ta! 5 stars
8/17/01 Monster W. Kung Up there with Schwarzenegger's best stuff. The special FX could've been better, though. 4 stars
6/08/01 Rampage it was amazing, waay too violent 5 stars
4/03/01 Corbin Dallas THE GREATIST FILM since The 5th Element, kicks ass!!! 5 stars
2/21/01 dale hardiman MY ABSOLUTE FAVORITE MOVIE OF ALL TIME! rent or buy the r-version for more blood and gore 5 stars
2/16/01 Ray McCoy Slightly outdated sets, yet still convincing film dealing with memories and virtual reality 4 stars
11/28/00 Cristopher Revilla at least this movie is better than the shitload full of crappy mars movies, pretty gory too 5 stars
11/14/00 bruno i had to watch it a few times to get it, but noetheless great 5 stars
10/05/00 terry c rachel kicking stones ass makes it worth watching 5 stars
7/19/00 Bruce An original and innovative Sci-Fi thriller 5 stars
6/24/00 Naushad Khanji The best Schwarzenegger yet.Remarkable direction 5 stars
5/05/00 matt Best Sci-Fi Movie ever With the exception of Alien and Aliens and Predator!!!! 5 stars
4/09/00 Hil Snaden Brilliant in so many ways, action, humor, science fantasy, psychology, sets, vision... 5 stars
1/09/00 John Markham Arnie reprises his role as a block of wood in excellent Sci-Fi movie. 4 stars
11/04/99 Mickey "Father Death" MacJohnstmyster Excellent , good (if slightly confusing plot) and good FX . Get your arse to mars....... 5 stars
7/11/99 Daria Arnie, you shouldn't even try to act... 3 stars
6/10/99 Homer J. Simpson Oh shit this is great,aliens,violence,sex and blood,can't get better 5 stars
5/09/99 Holy Rolly It's a great movie! "Baby you make me wish I had 3 hands" 5 stars
4/15/99 Jon Jackson Arnie's best(?) Well, with the exception of "Hercules in New York" 5 stars
12/07/98 Shadow Raider That movie couldn't make me sleep and screwed up my mind. Great movie ever. 5 stars
12/01/98 Mr.Pink Arnie's best flick along with the first Termonator 5 stars
10/28/98 Silent Rob Great vision, makes you work to get it. Multiple viewings change many perceived conclusions 5 stars
10/02/98 Paul I've seen it over 15 times, and I finally understand the whole story. That's a classic. 5 stars
9/25/98 ShadowStar ...and the question: What should the producers have done before this film was released. 1 stars
9/07/98 BBReBozo The plot still fucks my skull. Arnie's best movie (no thanks to him). 5 stars
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  01-Jun-1990 (R)



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