TOTAL RECALL Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Screenplay by Ronald Shusett, Dan O'Bannon and Gary Goldman
What do you want a Hollywood movie to be? Well, for a start, you want it to be based on a script that kicked around Tinseltown for more than a decade. (Here's one, originally written in 1979, name of Total Recall.) Then, in these days of multinational superproductions, you want it to star an Austrian, be directed by a Dutchman, and cost about $60 million. (Total Recall, a Paul Verhoeven film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.) You want it to boast elaborate sets and gadgety special effects. (TR created a Martian colony on a Mexican soundstage.) You want it to blend science fiction, action adventure and suspense. (TR filches blithely from Star Wars and Blade Runner, from RoboCop and Hitchcock films.) You want it to have plenty of cartoon mayhem for the ^ blood brigade. (TR meets its kill quota in the mid-hundreds.) Oh, and if it's not too much trouble, you'd like the movie to be fast, witty, glamorous, with thrill piling on giggle atop gasp.
For its first two-thirds, Total Recall has it all: the sleek confidence of big-budget picture making at its most inventive. It zaps out beguiling images so quickly that viewers may want to see the film over again right away, just to catch what they missed. Verhoeven seems to have assumed that today's moviegoers have a megabyte media intelligence; then he worked like crazy to overload it. When Total Recall is cooking, it induces visual vertigo.
Even the plot is complex enough to require Cliffs Notes. It goes like this. Quaid (Schwarzenegger) is a 21st century construction worker: a happily married man occasionally nagged by dreams of Martian landscapes. Except he isn't. He is really Hauser, an agent from Mars Intelligence who has been given the memory of Quaid in order to fulfill a dark and secret mission that will shuttle him between the planets.
While spinning its tale at warp speed, Total Recall creates a coherent world that is part prophecy, part satire. On future Earth the unit of money is, of course, a "credit." Folks flick on the wall-screen TV to check out ESPN's coverage of the Toronto-Tokyo game, then perfect their tennis stroke with the help of a teacher on hologram. Johnnycab, the robot taxi driver, chirps irrelevant pleasantries until passengers want to throttle him. A married couple debate whether to move to Mars -- as if it were the suburbs -- or to Saturn ("Everybody says it's gorgeous"). Perhaps they should visit Rekall Inc., a mind-travel company that offers "the memory of a lifetime": a microchip implant of images from a wonderful vacation. They could even buy someone else's memory. "Take a vacation from yourself," the salesman croons. "We call it the Ego Trip."
The film's Mars is Earth's cracked mirror image: a domed underworld of freak psychics and three-breasted prostitutes, ruled by a tyrant from whom the colonists must buy air, and he has just jacked up the price. It is on Mars, toward the end, that Total Recall slows down to tie up its plot and provide each villain with an appropriately gruesome demise. It goes wussily misterioso when Quaid meets a Yodaesque guru. But even when the film flirts with becoming ordinary, it is propelled by the stolid charm of Schwarzenegger, who carries the whole movie as easily as a dumbbell between his fingers.