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Total Recall (October 16/01)

There's something quite glorious about watching a movie like Total Recall in this era of toned-down violence and political correctness. As directed by legendary mayhem-meister Paul Verhoeven, Total Recall is completely over-the-top in virtually every respect - the violence is incredibly vicious (and comedic), the one-liners grotesquely cheesy, and the special effects enjoyably garish.

Set in the future, Total Recall stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Douglas Quaid - a seemingly happy and well-adjusted blue collar type with a beautiful wife (played by Sharon Stone). He's become somewhat bored with his life, though, and decides to take a "virtual" vacation - which basically means he'll have all the memories of a real vacation after a (supposedly) simple procedure. He chooses an adventurous jaunt to Mars - complete with villains and a sexy girl - but something goes awry during the implantation. To give away any more would be criminal, but suffice it to say, Arnie gets in a whole mess of trouble and has to kick some serious ass.

In the hands of a director like Verhoeven (who, if you asked him, would feign complete ignorance of the word "subtle"), Total Recall takes off as soon as the opening credits finish and never looks back. What makes this movie so enjoyable (and where it succeeds where so many others have failed) are the amazingly brutal action scenes and the surprisingly fleshed out characters. By the time the end rolls around, Arnie has created a character that not only do you root for, but you identify with as well. It's sort of the James Bond thing - women want him and men want to be him.

Another great thing about Total Recall is its unabashedly relaxed attitude towards violence. There's a sequence in the film where Arnie is being chased by bad guy Richter (played by Verhoeven staple Michael Ironside) and some goons, when their chase leads them to a crowded escalator. The baddies open fire and Arnie uses the poor schmo in front of him as a human shield. When the thugs start shooting at him from behind, he turns the long-since-dead hapless victim around and props him up for further protection against the flurry of bullets heading his way. Is it excessive and over-the-top? Of course. But is it also funny and exhilarating? You bet.

Total Recall received a lot of flak upon its initial release for its excessive violence, which is unfair. Yeah, there's a lot of death and needlessly gory scenes of brutality, but all that adds to the fun. Throw in some great performances into the mix (Schwarzenegger has never been better playing a human) and a surprisingly satirical screenplay (which lambastes everything from commercialism to the dangers of exorbitant government control), and you've got one of the best action flicks to emerge out of Hollywood in the '90s (or ever, really).

out of

© David Nusair