When I was a little girl, I was very easily frightened. Actually, that really hasn’t changed much—I still have at least half a dozen quasi-phobias I can think of offhand—but movies don’t scare me like they used to, certainly not movies like Total Recall.
I’m not sure what terrified me so much as a kid—maybe the bulging Judge Doom eyes???—but as an adult, I was giggling. Hysterically giggling.
Doug Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has been having recurring nightmares of Mars. He feels compelled to go take a vacation there, but his wife, Lori (Sharon Stone), is not keen on the plan because Mars really isn’t that swell of a place, what with their red skies, violent insurgencies, and three-breasted prostitutes. So Quaid decides to try out Rekall, a place that inserts memories of vacations into your brain without actually having to deal with airfare and hotel costs.
And then things go frakkin nuts.
1. Arnie seems particularly flat in this movie, even for him. The way he delivers some lines, its like he’s slowly reading them off cue cards. I will never completely understand his career. (Though it must be said that I do love True Lies. I don’t know if that really has as much to do with him as it does with Bill Paxton, Tom Arnold, and Jamie Lee Curtis, but still. It’s a fun film.)
Arnie also gets to say a few pretty terrible puns here, like, “Screw you!” as he uses a big drill to kill a bad guy. Consider this preparation for Batman and Robin, buddy.
2. Sharon Stone, on the other hand, is a lot of fun. Sure, she’s kind of boring and blah in the first ten minutes, but after that she gets a lot better. I definitely liked her a lot more than the other main lead, Melina (Rachel Ticotin). Melina is supposed to be some kind of hot, badass version of sleazy and demure, and while I imagine this is a pretty hard combination to pull off, Ticotin particularly fails at making the grade.
3. Also, Smiley’s in da house!
Better known to other people as Michael Ironside, Smiley is so dubbed because he’s, well, not. Smiley, that is. His characters are almost always completely cheerless. And when he does smile, that means someone else is in pain. Because that’s who Michael Ironside plays: soldiers or sadistic villains.
Here, Smiley is Richter, a second banana villain. As second banana villains go . . . eh. He’s okay. Mek and I were talking about the possibility of remaking Total Recall, and while it doesn’t need to be remade—it works as a crazy, cheesy, sci-fi action film—there are all these ideas and concepts I couldn’t help latching onto, going, Ooh, if you develop this idea here or make that plot point darker there, you could make this into a really smart science fiction film. In our imagined remake, Richter would get some serious character development.
4. In the actual remake . . . who knows? I’m not sure if anyone’s even playing Richter. But there is going to be a remake . . . according to imdb, it’s filming now. Colin Farrell as Quaid is . . . okay. Not who I was picturing for a smarter update, but I did so love him in In Bruges and, well, he’s hot, so I’m willing to give that a chance. A supporting cast of Bryan Cranston, Bill Nighy, and John Cho also make me smile (particularly John Cho, cause I’m on a serious Star Trek kick right now, and I’ve always wanted to see more from him) but the women . . . oh, the women. I am not pleased. Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel? Ugh. No, thank you.
5. But back to this film . . . you have to like a movie that has psychic mutants, dwarf prostitutes with machine guns, and the aforementioned three-breasted prostitutes. I mean, how do you not like that? Also: in the future, you can instantly paint your nails different colors. This is AWESOME.
6. Benny (Mel Johnson Jr.) is not so awesome, though. Benny is the “funny” cab driver, and while he starts out okay, his shtick gets kind of old, kind of fast. I kept watching him, thinking, “You’re not Argyle! (From Die Hard.) You’re not even that guy who Keanu Reeves hitches a ride from in Speed.” (“Take the phone!” Heh, still cracks me up.) A different actor could have made Benny’s part more enjoyable, I think.
7. Still, not all is lost. While Benny is a subpar cab driver, we at least get Robert Picardo’s voice for a few minutes as Johnny Cab!
Love you, Mr. Picardo. You were especially inspired in your guest appearance on Justified, I thought.
8. Here’s a funny thing: good guys use bad guys as human shields all the time. What they don’t normally do is use innocent bystanders as human shields.
Now, to be fair, the dude Quaid’s using as a human shield is already dead. It’s not like Arnie just pulled some random guy off the escalator and said, “Hey, buddy. You’re an extra. Take these bullets for me, would ya?” But once the random guy did get shot, Quaid grabs him and uses his corpse to deflect like 80 more bullets before the poor guy’s finally allowed to fall to the ground in peace.
I wish I had seen this movie before Cracked.com had done their “movie posters through minor character’s perspective” contest. I would have made one with a picture of this guy, called it Human Shield!, and gave it this tagline: He Saved Arnie’s Life . . . A Lot.
9. I also love the part where Quaid gets sedated. This nurse (who’s kind of awesome) jabs him with a needle like six times. They don’t fuck around with sedation at Rekall. In a somewhat related note, it’s comforting to find that no matter how different things become in the future, companies will still find it advantageous to unnecessarily change the spelling of their company’s name in what I must assume is a desperate ploy to attract younger customers.
Yep, I’m still looking at you, SyFy.
10. You know how some horror movies love green tinting, especially if they’re at a hospital or a morgue? Well, Total Recall likes red. A lot. I mean, don’t get me wrong: I know Mars is a red planet and all, but godamn, they don’t let you forget that here. It’s, like, super red. Red on steroids. It’s the kind of tinting a director might use to depict Hell.
11. As fun as this movie is, it ends on a rather unfortunate note. I can’t tell you about that until the Spoiler Section, obviously, but let me just say that I felt compelled to vomit up a lot of Diet Dr. Pepper and Ritz crackers because of it.
12. Finally, when you ask a buddy about this place that sounds like fun but also fucks around with people’s heads, and that buddy says, “Dude, don’t do it, man. That place fucks around with people’s heads, like, in the bad way. My cousin, man, he almost ended up fuckin lobotomized”—well, here’s a clever notion: DON’T GO.
Did Arnie end up lobotomized? Why was Melina so unlikable? What exactly happened in that end that made Carlie want to vomit?
Read on for spoilers.
Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? We have a LOT of ground to cover.
To start with: Quaid has a nightmare of suffocating to death on Mars, and by suffocating, I mean he turns into this:
There’s a pretty brunette woman with him, which is nice, except for the whole aforementioned cartoonishly dying thing. Just as Quaid’s about to bite the big one, he wakes up with his hot wife, Sharon Stone. Apparently, Sharon Stone—or, fine, I can call her Lori—Lori’s a little jealous of the brunette Quaid dreams of every night. I’m not convinced that Lori is really understanding the essence of these dreams, you know what I mean? This is something of a theme with the women in this movie.
Anyway, Quaid wants to go to Mars; Lori’s like fuck that bullshit. Then Quaid wants to try out Rekall; Quaid’s Buddy is like, “Dude, lobotomy!”
So, Quaid, like a JACKASS, goes to Rekall anyway, despite said warnings of potential lobotomies, and he selects a vacation package where he gets to pretend to be someone else: a secret aaaaaaagent man! They start the procedure, but it goes wrong fast: Quaid’s already been mindfucked, apparently, and since Rekall didn’t do it, only one party can be held responsible: the government!
The friendly staff at Rekall want fuckall to do with the government’s nefarious plans, so they sedate Quaid—a lot—wipe his memory of going to Rekall in the first place, and send him in a Johnny Cab back home. That could have been the end of it, but Quaid’s buddy who told him not to go to Rekall is actually a bad guy in disguise, and he and his cronies try to kill Quaid. Obviously, Quaid kills them instead because he’s a secret aaaaaaagent man. (And, also, because it’s a hard sell when you kill off your protagonist twenty minutes into the movie.)
Quaid goes back home and starts freaking the fuck out. Lori tries to convince him that he’s been hallucinating, but Quaid’s got literal blood on his hands and isn’t having any of that nonsense. So Lori decides to kill him. You know. Just cause.
Actually, Lori’s a secret agent herself, and she and Quaid aren’t really married. In fact, Quaid isn’t even Quaid—his whole life has been a lie! (I’m actually a little impressed that he doesn’t spout this particularly cliche himself. At least it would make sense in his case. That’s not always true in movies. I swear, sometimes it’s like a boyfriend lies to his girl about going to see his buddies for a beer or something, and the girl’s like, “My whole life’s been a lie!” and the audience and the boyfriend are like, “. . . what?”)
Anyway, Quaid escapes just in time. Richter—who’s apparently married to or at least dating Lori, I can’t remember which—goes after him, accompanied by his goon squad. Thankfully, they’re all fairly incompetent.
Quaid takes off in a Johnny Cab, but when he tries to exit the cab without paying the fare, the taxi tries to run him over. That . . . doesn’t seem like a very good way of collecting the fare, although I suppose it might act as a good deterrent against cheap bastards who don’t like to pay for shit. Then again, maybe not, because Johnny Cab misses Quaid, crashes into a wall, and then explodes. Sheesh. Think about that, next time you get into a taxi. Apparently, they are SUPER combustible.
Anywho. Quaid has received a package from a mysterious stranger, and inside the package are a number of helpful tools along with a video of . . . Quaid himself! Only he isn’t really Quaid, see, he’s actually Houser. Houser explains that his memory’s been wiped, and Quaid needs to get his ass to Mars and find Kuato, the leader of the resistance movement who will be able to unlock all his secret spy knowledge. He also helpfully tells Quaid how to get the tracking chip out of his head: through his nostrils.
Meanwhile, Richter and his Incompetent Squad of Incompetency have discovered the very convenient taxi cab explosion and thus pinpoint Quaid. Not for long, though, because Quaid gives his tracking device to a nearby rat, and the Incompetent Squad of Incompetency spend like five minutes blindly shooting at said rat before it occurs to them that the device might not be up Quaid’s nose anymore. There’s another almost-gotcha-moment at an airport, but all you really need to know about this scene is that Quaid improbably hides inside a creepy-woman-robot thing, and Richter’s men are so stunned by this that they don’t even attempt to shoot him as he stands there, gloating at his own awesomeness, for like ten seconds.
So now Quaid’s on Mars. He takes a cab—this one’s driven by the not-as-funny-as-he-thinks-he-is Benny—down to a shady neighborhood, where he finds old flame Melina amongst a bunch of mutant prostitutes. And here’s my problem with Melina: I would respect her for not automatically jumping into Quaid’s arms and trusting his “I have government-induced amnesia, so please take me to your secret leader” story . . . except that’s clearly not her real issue. Melina slams the door in Quaid’s face because Quaid is married, sorta, to Sharon Stone. Talk about missing the fucking point, Melina. It was pretty impossible to take her even remotely seriously after this.
Soon after Melina kicks Quaid out, Lori shows up at his hotel room with Dr. Edgemar, trying to persuade Quaid that he’s really still at Rekall and having a psychotic break due to the procedure. When Quaid threatens to kill the doctor, Edgemar says that he’ll never break free of his delusions if he does, that the walls will come crashing down and that he’ll end up thinking he’s the hero of some bizarre alien fantasy forever while he’s really just a drooling vegetable. Quaid is almost about to put down his gun and take the red pill (RED PILL!!!) when he notices Edgemar is sweating, and apparently that’s enough proof for him to shoot the guy in the face. Well, okay then. Glad we don’t need anything more conclusive than that before we shoot people in the forehead.
Melina gets over her stupid tiff and shows up to rescue Quaid from Lori, Richter, and the still-incompetent goon squad. Melina and Lori get into an awesome fight (where I am inappropriately rooting for Lori all the way). Seriously, she’s kind of awesome as a villain. Unfortunately, Quaid shoots her in the head and makes an oh-so-witty quip about considering that a divorce. Good to see you’ve easily reconciled those fake memories about eight years of wedded bliss, Quaid.
Richter discovers his dead wife on the ground, and I kind of thought he might go into full vengeance mode now, since he’s been very reluctantly following orders by Big Bad Cohaagen to bring Quaid in alive. Sadly, that never really happens. As much as I like Smiley, I hope he becomes more interesting in the remake . . . though, honestly, I kind of doubt it.
Melina and Quaid take Benny’s cab back to the Skeezy Mutant Prostitute Dive. They are ushered down in the secret caves with George (Marshall Bell, who I best know from small roles in Stand by Me and The Chase) while everyone else in the quarter starts to slowly run out of the air because Cohaagen’s an asshole and can apparently just turn it off. George isn’t sure about leading this unknown Benny guy to their Top Secret Headquarters, but Benny reveals that he’s secretly a mutant, so George’s like, “Well, I guess that’s okay, then.” And that’s about when I realized, Oh, Benny’s a bad guy. Cool, that means Arnie will kill him later! Woo hoo!
And just when you’re thinking that George is probably (and not-so-secretly) Kuato, you find out that Kuato is really this weird mutant dude that is conjoined with George, living outside his abdomen.
One, this mutant guy totally reminds me of something I saw on Farscape once, and two, I can see why this movie has some serious cult status. I mean, come on, that’s just cool!
Kuato is a psychic (as most or all mutants are) and he reads Quaid’s mind: Cohaagen’s hiding a secret alien technology that will provide air to the entire planet. Since this would undermine Cohaagen’s tyrannical control over Mars, he doesn’t want to share this knowledge. This is about the time that the bad guys bust in to the Top Secret Headquarters and kill pretty much everyone, including both George and Kuato. Well, that was fast. Nice knowing you, guys.
Then Cohaagen pops up to deliver The Twist: Houser (you know, Quaid before his memory was wiped) is actually a bad guy too! He underwent this whole memory implantation procedure just so he could lead the bad guys to Kuato without the psychic mutants knowing about his true intentions. Which, frankly, seems like a very bad and overly complicated plan to me, but hey, it worked, right?
I’m a little ashamed to admit that I didn’t catch The Twist—especially when I thought that Houser seemed like kind of an overconfident, smarmy dick in the video message he left—but I figure that’s because I wasn’t wondering who the REAL Arnold was; I was too busy wondering when the next crazy mutant and/or three-breasted prostitute would show up. That’s fair, right?
And I’m torn, too, because in a smarter remake, I’d love to see them play up the idea of who you are versus who you were, you know, how Quaid always refers to his past self as Houser, always third person . . . there are tons of interesting ideas in there that you can play with . . . but I also feel that if you draw too much attention to the dichotomy of selves, then the audience would catch on to The Twist way too soon. So I’m not sure if I like it or not.
Anyway, Cohaagen plans to turn Quaid back into Evil Houser and turn Melina into Houser’s domesticated sex puppet—a creepier concept if I gave a good godamn about Melina—and conveniently leaves the room before the process is complete, very confident in his henchmen to not utterly fail like henchmen always, always do. Needless to say, Quaid and Melina escape, and after a bunch of fighting (where Richter’s arms get torn from his body and Benny receives a painful death by giant drill), Quaid manages to turn on the alien device which gives Mars a blue sky! Yay!
Before the atmosphere kicks on in earnest, though, they almost expand and suffocate to death. Luckily for them, though, only Cohaagen actually does that. And then, standing on the edge of a beautiful, not quite-so-red now Mars, Arnold realizes that he’s just had a terrible thought: what if he’s still dreaming? (He delivers this line much the same way that you might mention to your friend that Subway forgot the mustard on your sandwich, only even less concerned about it.) And Melina, useless, annoying bitch that she is, says, “Well, kiss me quick before you wake up!”
And so the film finally ends as I vomit all over the coffee table.
A few quick things. First, is this my longest review yet? Jesus, it feels like it. Second, there’s, of course, a lot of talk about whether Quaid is really dreaming this whole time or not. (Especially since Dr. Edgemar pretty much predicts everything that happens in the last thirty minutes, right down to the discovery that Quaid is actually linked to Cohaagen.) While this adds a nice extra layer of crazy to the film, I’m glad that it’s not the main point of the movie, you know, with Arnie trying to figure out if he’s insane or not for two hours straight . . . cause, you know, I usually hate movies like that. I have a sneaking suspicion that the remake is going to play up this particular aspect, much to my annoyance.
I also like that you don’t find out definitively if Quaid’s dreaming or not. I tend to believe he’s not because I’m pretty much a literalist . . . but I think the film handles the ambiguity nicely. Sometimes, ambiguous films come off as awfully pretentious, but with this one, it’s just another thing in the mix, along with spies and mutants and robot cab drivers.
Mostly silly, cheesy, crazy sci-fi action with some surprising actual merit. Certainly decent, if sometimes underdeveloped, ideas. Some pretty flat acting and bad dialogue, though.
Always go with your instincts. Something telling you to check out a potentially dangerous procedure that could seriously screw with your mind? Ignore your buddy’s dire warnings and go check it out. A dude tries to warn you that you might turn into a vegetable? Shoot the fucker for having the nerve to drip a few beads of sweat. Maybe you’re dreaming and maybe you’re not, but none of that really matters as long as it seems like you got your happy ending. Right? Right?