Tuesday, August 14, 2012

REVIEW: Total Recall

Total Recall
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Year 1990
Total Recall is a fantastically brutal science fiction film that goes balls to the wall in delivery a cinematic action thrill ride that is soaked in blood and heavy on the violence. Directed by Paul Verhoeven after the success of his vicious sci-fi cop thriller Robocop, and starring the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger at the peak of his abilities, the film delivers all the goods when it comes to kicking ass and taking names, all for the sake of entertainment. With an expert eye, a fully realized world, unparalleled brutality, and a handful of dynamic and highly memorable characters, Total Recall is a heralded classic that really deserves the reputation that it has garnered over the years since its creation. Schwarzenegger you beautiful bastard! You’ve done it again! Now get your ass to Mars!
The film follows Douglas Quaid, a happily married construction worker who has mysteriously begun having recurring dreams about Mars and a beautiful dark haired woman. Plagued by the idea that he has lived on the red planet before, Quaid decides to sign up for a virtual vacation at Rekall Inc., a travel company who implants fabricated vacations into your mind while allowing you to become whoever you want to be. With his destination set for Mars, his persona tallied as secret agent, and his aspirations hoping to shed some light on his recent dreams, Quaid sets off on his virtual vacation, but after being sedated and prepped for his memory implantation, something goes terribly wrong and the life that he once thought was real begins to crumble around him. On the run and with no one to turn to, Quaid makes his way to Mars to confront the dream that has frighteningly become a reality.

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the role of Douglas Quaid, the muscle-bound everyman who is thrust into a string of events so fantastic that it simply boggles the mind. The character of Quaid is tailor made for Arnold as it allows the action star to flex his strengths in front of the camera while also giving the Austrian born actor ample opportunities to let his trademark wit and tongue and cheek humor fly. The performance on display by the larger than life actor is not of Oscar nominated proportions, but one that is exceptionally fun and jam-packed with nonstop one-liners and violent moments. Out of all of Arnold’s roles, I’d have to go with Douglas Quaid in Total Recall as the most enjoyable of all of his efforts. There is just something so endearing about his character in this film and you can’t deny or even fight the overwhelming urge to just sit back and relax while watching Schwarzenegger take on overzealous villains, mutated Martians, and a whole plethora of other wacky things that are just plain beyond words. If there is one strength of the film that truly launches the movie into the stratosphere and stands out as the end all be all success of the production, it would be Arnold’s outrageous and insanely enjoyable performance.
Following in the footsteps of Arnold, the film delivers two female leads that truly take on the challenge of paring up with Schwarzenegger by going toe to toe with his cinematic antics and landing some surprise punches that really impact the flow of the story. Rachel Ticotin plays the role of Melina, while Sharon Stone takes on the venomous role of Lori. Ticotin’s portrayal as the streetwise and sexy lady of the night is a strong one, and she takes the opportunity of being dealt a headstrong and highly capable character with an impressive fire. When I first saw Total Recall, I had not been fortunate enough to have seen her other forays in film, so when I was introduced to Rachel within this movie I was literally blown away. She truly embodied a heroine that we could get behind and I never can get enough of that sassy personality of hers. On the other spectrum of the two female lead roles, Sharon Stone knocks it out of the park as Douglas Quaid’s pseudo-wife and vengeful bitch. Just like Rachel Ticotin’s character, Sharon sizzles as Lori, but her sizzle is of a more dangerous variety. There is just something so sinister about her role and it’s not because she is one of the villains of the piece. It’s the way that she acts and the split-second turns of her personality that really make her a formidable opponent for Quaid. Combined with the cerebral twists that the film throws at the audience, Stone’s role really brings an added layer to the mental manipulations that just thrive within the narrative of this flick. In the end, both ladies bring something unique to the film while at the same time they both look damn good in the process.

What? One bad guy not enough? How about a BUNCH! That’s right, there is no shortage of bad guys for Arnold to take down in this film and the caliber of villains is as top-notch as they come. Michael Ironside takes on the role of Richter, a badass with a short fuse, and he proves again and again that he is the go to guy if you’re looking for someone to spice up your film with an overabundance of explosive moments and chaos induced violence. The character of Richter is only a henchman, but even in this deluded presentation Ironside thrives in that wicked way that just scorches up the scenery and steals the show. There’s not a moment in this film where you’ll not find Michael busting chops, unloading clips, screaming at the top of his lungs, or basically acting like a crazed maniac. I loved the do or die disposition of his character and the manic way in which he handles each situation is just extremely enjoyable in that loose cannon sense.
Of course what would a henchman be without his master, and we get one in the form of Vilos Cohaagen played by the sadistic Ronny Cox. This guy is intensity personified and he takes on the role of number one douchebag of Mars with a shit eating grin. As controller of the planet, Cohaagen manipulates the system like a marionette puppeteer as he reaps all the benefits of being top dog while leaving nothing for the civilians of the planet. What is most interesting about his character is that he is not all rage and anger like Ironside’s Richter, but a more tempered version with a master plan. Don’t get me wrong, when the guy goes off he puts Ironside to shame, but underneath that psychotic covering is a man with a carefully laid out plan. Cox does a tremendously good job with the character and through his performance he captures the oppressive and imposing nature that living under a dictatorship feels like. Plus he makes an excellent prick for the ages.

Total Recall is not your average science fiction action film, far from it. The world that Verhoeven and Schwarzenegger have set up, in this cinematic adaption of Philip K. Dick’s most compelling story, is violent and brutal to its core. The sadistic nature of the film can be felt throughout and the timing in which this film was lensed, with the closing of the 80’s hardcore action era of flicks, is a great bookend to a cinematic time period that just truly went for the jugular. Epic in scope and gritty in feel, the movie pulled no punches in delivering a movie that simply rocked you with its harsh nature and sleazy temperament. The world in which this film is set in is seedy, seductive, and heartless, and the filmmakers captured that vivid sense with great effect. From the bloody gun battles to the cold hearted nature of its characters, Total Recall is a film that never lets you forget where you are. The result of this hyper-stylized world is something of an obscurity, because we’re dealt a movie that truly raises the stakes when it comes to bloodletting, yet it has a tongue and cheek style to it that makes the hardness of its violence that much more potent and shocking. For me, the nonchalant nature of its appetite for violence is a compelling thing, and the fact that it was all done in a practical manner makes the experience all the more magical.
With a movie set in a futuristic society where space travel is the norm and colonies exist on Mars, you need to have your shit together when visually displaying the world to the audience, and in this case the filmmakers truly do have their shit together. From the sleek and streamlined flow, yet grungy and desolate looks of the cities on Earth, to the red hued and squalor ridden compounds of the Mars colonies, the movie does an excellent job in filling out the larger than life aspects of the film’s multiple worlds and civilizations. The filth and decay of all the locations are truly inspiring, and the aged look of everything gives a very lived in feel to the proceedings. With a large extensive bit of miniature work and a great deal of patients when constructing these impressive sets, the filmmakers have created a world that feels totally tangible and genuine to ours, though it is one that has been put through the ringer a number of times. The decadence of this film world is potent to say the least, and that vivid presentation really sells the movie as a whole and makes you believe that Quaid is really traversing these otherworldly places and interacting with these people, no matter how unusual. Now that’s an accomplishment worthy of praise.

Total Recall is a science fiction film that places you in a savage and brave new world, as it leaves you to fend for yourself in the harshest of climates. Like Quaid and his discovery that his life is a lie, we venture out with him on his mission to discover the truth. Through his reintroduction to the world, we are invited to share in his discoveries, making for a story that is truly immersive even when it’s being overtly over the top and obtrusive. It’s those aspects of the production that really suck you in as you’re bombarded with one crazy situation after the next, while all the while dealing with such wacky concepts as life on mars, alien artifacts, implanted memories, virtual vacations, and three-boobed mutant prostitutes of all things. The absurdity is the film’s smoking gun, as it tempts us to venture onward in unveiling what deliciously insane thing will come next.
Without a doubt, the cast of this film is through the roof entertaining and each person feels right at home within the ludicrousness and intense nature of the world around them. Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, and Ronny Cox give some of the most compelling performances of their career and not because their roles are exceptionally poignant, but because they feel genuine and authentic amidst such chaos and bedlam-inducing mayhem. But what really makes the film a classic for me is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s bombastic performance as Douglas Quaid. There is just something weird and strange about Arnold’s performance in this film. It is filled with such unabashed rage and whimsical tomfoolery, that it makes for a very unusual cinematic brew. For me it’s the combination of all of these wonderful aspects, both in Arnold’s portrayal and in the film’s feel in general, that really make the movie what it is. Total Recall is a true masterpiece of sadistic nature and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Now get your ass to Mars, because this film is…..

Frame that picture my friend, because that is precious.

Pick the sleazy brunette! PICK THE SLEAZY BRUNETTE!

Schwarzenegger! You maniac!

Tempting..... But you're still a psycho.

Johnny Cab is freaking out! Ahhhhhhhhh!

Oooooooh that's got to hurt!

Invite accepted!

Benny you son of a bitch.

In this instance, three is not a crowd.

Don't sweat it buddy. Seriously, he'll literally shoot you in the face if you sweat!

I warned you about the sweating dude.

The saddest day in the world. R.I.P. Three-Boobed Mutant Chick.

Say hello to my little friend... with a machine gun! 

Looks like this bromance is over.

Hey Benny! You're SCREWED!

This guy really loves his job.

Laugh it up funboy!

See you at the chiropractor Richter!

Come on Cohaagen! Give Arnold the air!

Girl.... You're so sleazy.

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