Sunday 8 March 2020

1,001 Films: "Total Recall" (1990)

Amazing, now, to think of the start Paul Verhoeven had to his American career, with Robocop, Total Recall and Basic Instinct - all colossal box-office successes, all pushing the boundaries of screen representation in some way, all of them B-movies with A-list budgets. At the centre of this trash trilogy is Doug Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger), an ordinary guy with a loving wife and steady job. Despite the perks of a futuristic Earth, Doug Quaid is dissatisfied with his life; he wants to escape it all, and has his heart set on a trip to the recently colonised Mars. Philip K. Dick's source story, "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale", proposed that, rather than face the fuss associated with long-haul flights, future holidaymakers could simply go to a facility that implants memories of any requested trip within the brain. During this particular procedure, however, something goes awry: turns out that Doug isn't an ordinary guy being implanted with a secret agent's mental snapshots, but a double agent who's had his memory erased to allow him to live the life of an ordinary guy. Only the erasure was incomplete - which explains our hero's easy facility with necksnapping - and there are people (most notably Michael Ironside as a corporate henchman) who want our hero dead for what he knows but cannot remember. 

Verhoeven here blends espionage thrills - the plot's essentially a hybrid of North by North-West and The Bourne Identity, beamed a century into the future - with the midlife crisis fantasy of a workaday schmo who gets to kick ass while having two women fighting over him: "You're the best assignment I ever had," pants Sharon Stone as Quaid's wife. The result remains one of the wittier cinematic adaptations of Dick's work, revelling in the spectacle provided by Rob Bottin's prosthetic effects team and the best production design 1990 money could buy. It remains exceptionally pacy entertainment, and Verhoeven surrounds an inspired (if only implied) central gag - that, years from now, Arnold Schwarzenegger will be the closest thing to real we'll have - with a succession of varyingly perverse, out-of-this-world sights: Arnie being beaten up by Sharon Stone; Arnie in drag (this just after he leaves a video message for himself, insistent that he's been "playing for the wrong team"); Arnie being propositioned by first a woman with three breasts, then a dwarf in pink lingerie. Remade by Len Wiseman with Colin Farrell in 2012, to no especially good ends.

Total Recall is available on DVD and Blu-Ray through StudioCanal, and to rent through Amazon Prime.

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