Running time: 113 min.
Release date: June 1, 1990
We all dream about getting away sometimes. There are also times that we wish we were somebody else. This is the premise of the Total Rekall agency that appears in the film, Total Recall. They implant the memories of a vacation, and even provide a fantasy aspect to it. When the client awakens, they remember every detail of a two week journey that they never really left for. It is a concept not fully realized in the film, but then we forget about it halfway through and end up enjoying the ride that has been provided for us.
Total Recall takes place in the future, and Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as construction worker Douglas Quaid. Quaid has recurring dreams about events on Mars with a mystery woman, waking up in a sweat and a scream just as danger strikes in his dream. His wife, Lori (Sharon Stone), is troubled by these visions and somewhat jealous of the other woman, and is constantly reminding him that life on Mars is a bad idea. We learn from a newscast that the governor, Vilos Cohaagen (Ronny Cox), has violent problems with rebels preventing excavation. Quaid sees an ad for a company called Total Rekall, who implant the memories of vacations into the minds of their clients, so he pays them a visit. He chooses a vacation to Mars as a secret agent, but before the memory can be implanted things go awry. Under the influence of anesthesia, Quaid apparently has revealed some suppressed memories that someone took a lot of pains to erase from his memory. This is the point where the movie begins to blur Quaid's reality with his fantasy.
He is threatened by people he thought were friends, dispatching them in surprisingly easy fashion, as Quaid reveals some combat techniques. He goes home to his wife, but it turns out that she is not who she really says she is and that everything he remembers is a lie. After escaping from thugs, led by Cohaagen's right-hand man, Richter (Michael Ironside), Quaid meets a mysterious man who leaves him a suitcase full of fake IDs, money and various gadgets. He watches a video left by his own self as it turns out he is really a man named Hauser and that he needs to out a stop to Cohaagen's villainy. After finding his way to Mars, he meets up with an old flame (Rachel Ticotin) whom he recognizes as the woman from his dreams. We meet the residents of Venusville, filled with mutants and is the location of the mysterious rebel leader, Kuato. Cohaagen wants to find Kuato and put an end to the rebellion. Quaid and company discover what Cohaagen has discovered under the surface of Mars, which could change life as they know it on the red planet.
The plot to Total Recall is slightly confusing at first, but along the way it fills in the gap and makes things more clear. It doesn't make it any less far-fetched, but sticking with it will prove beneficial when viewing. The story was loosely based on the Phillip K. Dick short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale". Screenwriters Ronald Shusett and Dan O'Bannon were the same team that brought us Alien, and here they bring more science-fiction tropes such as space travel and memory implants. The script for the film reportedly went through dozens of drafts before Gary Goldman was brought in to help finish it. Director Paul Verhoeven, who impressed with RoboCop, has a steady hand with action scenes but also a lot of violence.
Mars itself is visually striking, as well as the bar where the planet's mutants hang out. There is a neat scene where Quaid is in disguise and his revealing is a great piece of visual effects wizardry. The violence is bloody, as Verhoeven also demonstrated in RoboCop. There are some laughable moments with the plot of the film, as well as some actual intentional comedy. At the center of it all, however, is the commanding presence of Schwarzenegger. In the beginning, he does a good job portraying a regular guy who is haunted by dreams (memories?), with a regular job and confused by the happenings surrounding him. Then he takes charge like the Arnold we all know and flexes some muscle and his usual marksmanship, something we can't say about the bad guys in the movie.
Total Recall is big on bloody, violent action and short on logic, but that's okay. Its okay because the movie keeps us focused on the screen, because every shot has something happening. It has fun with the future, as well as marvelling us with the visually impressive Mars. Schwarzenegger and Verhoeven make a good team together.