Total Recall (1990)

Memory erasion, multiple identities and triple-breasted prostitutes make for one of Arnie’s finest...


Total Recall (1990)(10:00pm, Thursday 12th February ITV2)

While The Terminator and T2 are rightly often quoted as two of Arnie’s best films, Total Recall doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves. Forget Predator. Step aside, Commando. This is the governor of California’s true masterpiece, and it’s all thanks to the director of RoboCop.

Based loosely on a Philip K Dick story, Total Recall is the story of Douglas Quaid (no relation to Dennis) a construction worker plying his trade in the year 2084. Having experienced some crazy dreams about a life on Mars with a not unattractive brunette, Doug decides to visit Rekall, a company that implants false memories into the brain to give a unique ‘vacation’ experience, to effectively make his dreams seem real. Inevitably, things go awry and Doug throws a major hissy fit, the outcome of which being that it turns out that those dreams were actually very real memories from Doug’s real secret agent life. Or were they? So begins an, at times confusing, but always riveting roller coaster tale that sees Doug kick Sharon Stone’s extremely pert bottom, lock horns with Michael Ironside and encounter a triple-breasted prostitute on Mars.

In the hands of any other director, this simply wouldn’t have worked. Only Paul Verhoeven has the requisite B-movie-on-a-huge-budget sensibility to grasp a project like Total Recall by the balls and send it soaring. Verhoeven’s marriage of stark, albeit comic book-esque violence and laugh-out-loud humour, together with his unique take on the future, make for a bold, unapologetic vision. One of the great qualities of the film is that, while it’s set years in the future, familiar elements still permeate throughout. So, we have a taxicab driven by a talking robot driver and seedy bars frequented by the kinds of lowlife regularly portrayed in westerns.

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Of course, alongside these modern updates of the familiar are more outlandish examples of Verhoeven’s sublime sci-fi visions. A scene where Quaid pulls an implant out of his own head is a particular highlight, with ropey but quaint special effects portraying in gory detail the full extent of Quaid’s obvious discomfort. It’s these effects that many will remember Total Recall for most of all. Once on Mars, the film goes into overdrive, throwing in false breasts of another kind, grotesque locals and a climatic showdown that literally makes people’s eyes pop out. Verhoeven doesn’t hold back on anything, much like in his previous film RoboCop, and this is a quality that I have a lot of admiration for. Even in a dud like Showgirls, he doesn’t compromise his films for anybody.

The other joy of Total Recall lies in watching Arnie give the performance of his life, playing both roles of his double life and chomping through more dialogue than people had seen him attempt at that time. The Terminator may have marked his arrival on the Hollywood scene, but it’s Total Recall that proved he was worthy of his superstar status.

If you haven’t seen Total Recall before, do yourself a favour and switch on later this week. If you have, there’s no better time to revisit this slice of sci-fi genius.