Quick Opinion: There are plenty of faults in 1990’s “Total Recall,” — especially with the acting; however, it’s still a fun sci-fi movie that holds up surprisingly well 27 years after its release. The 2012 remake of “Total Recall” provides much better acting, but it lacks the kind of imaginative vision that made the original so iconic. Arnold Schwarzenegger is not known for his acting chops, but his physique and confident demeanor made him an action star in the early 1990s. “Total Recall” is actually one of Schwarzenegger’s most thought-provoking films, and it’s arguably his best film outside of 1991’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”
Taking a Closer Look: Set in the year 2084, the story unfolds like that of a conspiracy thriller. Schwarzenegger plays Doug Quaid, a construction worker with the dream of living on the colonized Mars. He visits the Rekall Inc. to buy implanted memories of a vacation on Mars. When the implantation goes wrong, Quaid realizes that his entire life is a false memory, implanted by evil men from Mars out to kill him.
The plot sounds outlandish for sure, but the pacing and dialogue is executed well enough to keep its audience in step with every twist and turn that seems to come every 15 minutes or so. The underlying mystery of Quaid’s true identity is enough on its own to keep you watching and wondering how things will play out.
The action scenes are the real strengths of the film. The action moves quickly and violently as Quaid scrambles to learn the truth of his identity. In many sequences, the blood and violence resemble that of something out of a horror film. The chase scenes are well choreographed and concise. The action flows in a way that doesn’t put too much on the screen all at once like in many of today’s big action films (think "Transformers").
The scenes on Mars feel gritty — full of corruption and commercialism. It’s a pessimistic vision of the future that coincides with the plot’s themes of betrayal and exploitation. There are some special effects that look outdated in comparison to today’s CGI achievements; but, at the time of its release, “Total Recall” was ahead of the curve when it came to sci-fi visuals.
Standout Scene: Quaid arrives on Mars at a domed facility half-buried in the martian landscape. Quaid is going through a security checkpoint disguised as a woman by wearing a futuristic body suit. When the suit malfunctions, Quaid pulls off the woman’s head, revealing his identity to those around him. He tosses the artificial head to the armed men who are there to kill him. The head explodes, providing Quaid his chance to escape. To top it off, Schwarzenegger delivers one of his tacky one-liners before he runs for cover. It’s a cartoonish scene with some outdated special effects that only add to the fun.
Where to Watch: You can stream “Total Recall” on Hulu and Amazon Prime.
Matt McCafferty is a film critic contributor for The Sentinel and writes Rewind Reviews of movies available for streaming.