Review: Total Recall (1990)

Director: Paul Verhoeven
Screenwriter: Gary Goldman
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Rachel Ticotin, Ronny Cox, Michael Ironside
Genres: Comedy, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Release Dates: 6/1/90 (Theatres), 8/26/16 (Streaming)
Runtime: 1 hour, 49 minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%
Oscars: Nominated–Sound Mixing and Editing
Where to Watch: Netflix

Believe it or not, Total Recall — the 1990 original, not the pointless remake with Colin Farrell — was one classic sci-fi film that I hadn’t yet seen. It was definitely on my list, as it was nominated for two Oscars (in the sound categories), and has been deemed by many to be Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best performance. While his work in the film is hardly Oscar-worthy, it is perhaps his best role (although I haven’t seen any of the Terminator films) and gives him the chance to show more of his acting range. 

Total Recall is based on a story by Philip K. Dick — who also inspired Bladerunner. While this film isn’t nearly as slick and brilliant as the former, it’s still enjoyable and smart enough to be worthy of [perhaps] multiple viewings. Schwarzenegger is perhaps at his most expressive and watchable, and of course he also displays his incredible physical fitness and adept way with which he performs stunts. 

tWhile some sci-fi films tend to be so convoluted that they’re confusing even after repeated viewings — I’m looking at you, Tenet — this one, fortunately, is easy enough for even the most casual viewer to comprehend. Also, there are just the right number of twists that are slightly surprising but not too out of the realm of possibility, at least as they fit into the film’s world. And what a fascinating world it is: it takes place in the relatively distant future (not specified in the film), at a time when people are living both on Earth and on Mars. It’s interesting to see how the set designers created a futuristic setting that was still somehow based in the 1980s (the movie was filmed in 1989), with ’80s hair and costumes. It all seems a bit ridiculous and unnecessary at times, but it mostly works. 

sSharon Stone is quite excellent in what is basically the dual role of a  loving, charming wife and a tough, ass-kicking woman to whom Schwarzenneger so famously says, “consider that a divorce.” Apparently, filmmakers were so impressed with her here that they cast her in the main role in Basic Instinct. Rachel Ticotin, as the other principal romantic interest, is similarly bad-ass. 

It’s also important to note that the film is extremely bloody and violent, and is definitely not kid-friendly. There are some incredibly disturbing sequences that may or may not give you nightmares (not for me, fortunately). Maybe this wasn’t needed, but as someone with essentially an iron stomach, this wasn’t a problem.