Total Recall

Total Recall

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

In this day and age, everybody's finances are tight. A holiday is a real luxury. It's much the same for Doug Quaid, a humble construction worker who longs to take a trip to Mars. When Doug hears about Rekall Inc., a company specialising in implanting false memories of holidays, he figures it would be the next best thing. But then things start to get strange. Is Doug still under the influence of the Rekall trip, or is he really a secret agent whose memories were previously suppressed to stop him uncovering a shady plan to exploit those inhabiting the red planet?

Like any tale originating with Philip K Dick, this vibrant slice of science fiction is littered with tricksy twists and turns. The combination of the author's paranoid second guessing and Verhoeven's slick, confident style is an interesting one. Sleazy locations are stylishly photographed. The director mixes noirish industrial landscapes with bright, primary coloured interiors, playing with the conventions of Eighties B-movie science fiction to conceal a shrewder agenda. At first glance it seems like a rollercoaster action movie but underneath it's full of ambiguities, hidden clues and red herrings.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger may seem an odd choice to play an everyman, for all that his story may be more complicated, but he makes the role his own. In many ways this is the archetypal Arnie performance, combining the physicality seen in The Terminator with the cheesy one liners found in the likes of The Running Man. He hams up his Austrian accent for his principal role, slipping on a more American guise when delivering messages from his 'former self', a nice comment on his established relationship with audiences. If his delivery is self-parody, it's still engaging, and Verhoeven's skill is such that he draws us in close to this odd character and soon has us on his side.

Opposite Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin provides a tough, albeit somewhat bland, resistance fighter heroine, but her thunder is stolen by Sharon Stone as the wife who is tired of tolerating the stranger in her husband's mind. No doubt also tired of dull love interest roles in second rate melodramas, Stone throws herself into the part with real vigour and gives it a physical edge that at times makes her seem genuinely threatening even to the famous muscleman. Ronny Cox and genre stalwart Michael Ironside round out the villainous roles, whilst Marshall Bell and Mel Johnson Jr provide memorable turns as quirks characters Quaid meets along the way, and Robert Picardo is unforgettable as the voice of the Johnny cab.

With inventive stunt work and great set pieces, Total Recall is a triumph of visual effects design. It's funny, energetic and packed with genuine thrills. Yes, there's a large helping of cheese, but it only adds to the flavour. The games it plays with identity and reality sit intriguingly alongside Arnie's work in True Lies and Last Action Hero, and highly quotable lines help to secure its place in the blockbuster science fiction canon.

Reviewed on: 05 Jul 2012
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Total Recall packshot
Unable to afford his dream holiday, Doug decides to have false memories of one implanted instead, leading to a shocking discovery.
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Director: Paul Verhoeven

Writer: Ronald Shusett, based on the short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale by Philip K Dick.

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Ronny Cox, Michael Ironside, Marshall Bell, Mel Johnson Jr., Michael Champion, Roy Brocksmith, Ray Baker, Rosemary Dunsmore, David Knell, Alexia Robinson, Dean Norris, Mark Carlton

Year: 1990

Runtime: 113 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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