By Marc S. Sanders
Paul Verhoeven is an in-your-face director. His material regarding sex and violence goes at least a ginormous step further than other directors. For an action film like Total Recall, if someone gets shot, they don’t get shot once but hundreds of times. That way we can see more blood splurt all over the place. I especially feel ashamed how much I laugh when a tourist extra gets caught in good guy/bad guy crossfire. Once this guy is dead, Verhoeven makes sure his central nervous system is dead and none of his vital organs will qualify for donation. If Verhoeven sets a scene in a Martian adult night club, then you’ll have ample opportunity to take in an up front view of a three breasted woman, or little person in stiletto heels and hooker garb with the boa included.
Total Recall is a well-regarded Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick with a psychological twist to keep your attention. As soon as the film begins, you are questioning if you are watching a real-life experience for Douglas Quaid (Schwarzenegger) or is this a dream or is this all a purchased memory. A purchased memory is the new novelty of this science fiction future. If you can’t travel to a destination like the planet Mars, you can certainly buy an implant that’ll convince you that you were there, and even living the life of a secret agent while romancing a beautiful buxom brunette.
The exposition for Total Recall really arrives in the second half of the film. The first hour deliberately leaves the viewer as confused as Quaid while he tries to uncover why he’s being pursued and shot at.
The film is full of surprising twists including another character reveal that Schwarzenegger portrays. It’s hard to trust anyone Quaid comes in contact with or who is real or even what is real.
The settings are very well constructed. When you enter a security zone before hopping on a subway, your entire skeleton appears in blue on a screen you pass by. Mars is brutally red while it tries to comfort the civilization with familiar products like a Hilton Hotel or Pepsi. All of this sensory overload is present while a brutal overseer named Cohagen (an over-the-top Ronny Cox just like Paul Verhoeven likes it) seems to disregard the alien inhabitants by hoarding their breathable air.
It all feels familiar but the product placement is a little much as well. When I first saw the film in its theatrical release, I was enthralled with this picture. The action seemed to come as fast as the various twists. However, now it’s hard not to notice the blatant commercialization of the film. Its like watching a football game and every few minutes a commercial comes on. I’m aware of you, Pepsi. I don’t think I need a reminder during a loud, violent gun fight. Look! Instead of “USA Today” there’s “Mars Today.” Ha!!!! Even if you have the means to travel to Mars, you might want to visit the local Sharper Image for the latest high tech toy.
Total Recall relies on a story from sci fi writer Phillip K Dick who also inspired Minority Report and Blade Runner. Fortunately, that’s a good strength to hinge upon. I think the weirdness of it all makes Schwarzenegger a better actor; a muscle guy who can only appear more like an Everyman in a film like this. He’s good with emoting confusion. He’s as good as always with delivering a pun, and his fight scenes are consistent with his other actioners like Predator and Commando.
Total Recall is a good picture but it’s a lot to absorb in story. It’s over inflated in its unsubtle appearance of product placement, violence and nudity. If you’ve got the stomach for it, then you’ll have a good time. It’s not Star Wars lite. It’s definitely Star Wars heavy. Prepare to be bloated.