IT TAKES the briefest of glances at Arnold Schwarzenegger's acting career, which includes "Predator," "The Running Man," "Commando," "Twins" and "Red Heat," to realize that "Total Recall," the Austrian bodybuilder's latest, ranks among his finest work.
No, this does not mean we'll be hearing Arnold say, "I vud like to sank my proh-dyoo-sah" next spring. Come on. It simply means that "Recall" is full of the musclebound action that his fans presumably enjoy. It also means that this Mars-bound movie is violent, nasty and expensive (it cost Tri-Star well over $60 million).
How violent? Try a bloody shootout on a Martian escalator between Arnold and armed goons, in which Arnold holds up the cadaver of a slain bystander as a bullet shield; or savor the climactic fighting scene in which the musclebounder causes an adversary's forearms to be severed between a rising elevator and a rock ledge.
In director Paul Verhoeven's sci-fi action picture ("inspired" by a Philip K. Dick short story), Arnold is an earth-dwelling construction worker (or so he thinks) in the year 2084, who has been haunted by dreams about (now colonized) Mars for as long as he can remember. When he finds out about Rekall Inc., a futuristic poor-man's travel agency where you can mentally "travel" to faraway places by means of an implanted memory chip, he takes a trip that he will never forget.
But which you will.
Arnold gradually finds out that the Martian authorities, headed by evil guy Ronny Cox (also the bad executive in Verhoeven's "Robocop") and his fanatical lieutenant Michael Ironside, are trying to kill him. But because someone has altered his memory banks, he doesn't know exactly why, only that he used to be one of Cox's agents, apparently now disaffected with his employer.
"Who da hell em I?" says Arnold.
In the midst of all the gunfire, the bone-crunching and the Martian local color (a collection of latex-faced mutants), the producers try desperately to come up with that anthemic Arnold retort, the sardonic (and of course, mispronounced) one-liner that will please the crowd. In "Recall" there are several occasions for his brawn mots. The most obvious occurs when Arnold, Uzi in hand, faces the deadly, treacherous agent (Sharon Stone) he thought was his loving wife.
"We're married," she says, pleading for her life.
"Conseeder zat a divorce," he says, shooting her to death.
Actually, any fun you might encounter in "Recall" can be traced, most often, to director Verhoeven, who injects some of his "Robocop" camp into this mega-dumb project. When Arnold goes to pick up a vital suitcase full of important information, for instance, he has to fight off a particularly tenacious lady-vagrant who thinks she has first dibs on it. On Mars, the director shows us a brief shot of a very familiar newspaper called Mars Today.
The special makeup effects by Rob Bottin and visual effects by Eric Brevig are also pretty effective. In one case, Arnold must extricate an uncomfortably large bugging device from his brain via one of his nostrils. And in another of several quasi-climactic scenes (there are so many of them, you could probably miss one or two and grab another box of popcorn), Arnold and girlfriend Rachel Ticotin find themselves gasping for air in Mars' airless atmosphere, their faces and eyes bulging alarmingly. Arnold starts to look like Joe Piscopo and Ticotin like, well, someone I work with. In both cases, that's pretty scary.