It’s just as easy to blanket-judge the Nineties as a time when filmmaking flights of fancy took on a horrific new reality as it is to dismiss Arnold Schwarzenegger as a stone-hewed emotion-phobe incapable of voice moderation.
While director Paul Verhoeven has a bit to answer for in the former category in the form of Showgirls and Basic Instinct, he nevertheless deserves credit for channelling both one of Arnie’s best performances and creating a film of undoubted merit.
Indeed, in his take on the Philip K Dick tale that sees Quaid (Schwarzenegger) struggling to unravel a high-level conspiracy in order to discover who he really is, there is something for everyone.
Fans of deep sci-fi will appreciate the interrogation of identity and the potential issues that may arise in the distant future with the advent of new technology, as well as the dated-but-innovative art direction, while those after popcorn thrills will love the glut of chase and action sequences at hand. It’s a cohesive mesh of genre tropes, striking a balance that few films manage.
In the tradition of the best sci-fi, Total Recall depicts snatches of a future environment without ever panning back to assess this backdrop. While Verhoeven doesn’t shy away from the harsh reality, nor does he pause for reflection, with every respite from Quaid’s quest of discovery providing the catalyst for yet another set piece. This focus on action sometimes detracts from the deeper messages below the surface, but even so, it is never dumb, even when the Governator is dishing out sound bites.
Total Recall belongs in the same stable of fellow Verhoeven flicks RoboCop and Starship Troopers as an explosive view of the future that gives its viewers something to chew on while never neglecting a gruesomely satisfying pay-off.