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‘Total Recall’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 01, 1990

Mr. Schnitzelicious is back and bulgier than ever in Paul Verhoeven's splattery, plug-ugly thriller "Total Recall." Based on a tale by Phillip K. Dick, this Martian-set chronicle finds Bavarian beef-boy Arnold Schwarzenegger back in the thick of things: bodies, bullets and hefty babes who want to work out with him.

A gratuitous explosion of vainglory and guts, the movie is all firecrackers and giblets and broken glass. The overall effect is like wading through hospital waste. Verhoeven, who also directed the maliciously stylistic "Robocop," disappoints with this appalling onslaught of blood and boredom. To a large degree, he's abandoned cynicism and ingenuity for macho burlesque and thickheaded misogyny. This is down there with "Cobra."

In A.D. 2084 the Earth is, per usual, postapocalyptic. It's not a heap of rubble but a squat and cumbersome landscape of indifferent architecture, which Verhoeven calls New Brutalism. A talking skyscraper, Schwarzenegger fits beautifully into this Tomorrowland for pessimists and paranoids, a toneless bureaucracy strong-armed by the Agency. You've got to admit, it seems filled with the potential for mind-warping high adventure.

Mars has been colonized, and the colonists, led by a psychic mutant, are rebelling against the government henchmen. Schwarzenegger is Doug Quaid, an earthman haunted by recurring nightmares about another life on the red planet with the brunette of his dreams. In reality -- or is it? -- he is married to Lori (June Playmate Sharon Stone), a turbo-powered cross between Jane Jetson and Jhoon Rhee. A seemingly compliant blonde, she hides her real identity -- or does she? -- from her husband, a jackhammer operator who becomes obsessed with traveling to Mars.

Lori hates mountainous, mutant-filled, artificially oxygenated Mars, so Quaid opts for a fantasy adventure implant courtesy of Rekall Inc., a travel service specializing in memories. "A real holiday is a pain in the butt," reasons the Rekall pitchman, who sells Quaid on not only a standard Mars package, but an Ego Trip as well. "What's the same every vacation? No matter where you go, there you are," says the salesman, borrowing a line from Buckaroo Banzai. The Ego Trip allows the client to go as a playboy, a prince or, as in Quaid's case, a secret agent.

During the implant procedure he suffers -- or does he? -- a schizoid embolism, and a separate personality that has been blocked from his mind emerges. Fearing Agency involvement, the Rekall technicians quickly sedate him -- or do they? -- and attempt to suppress any memories he has of visiting Rekall. And then the very fantasy he longed for comes horrifically, ham-fistedly to life. Or does it?

Quaid, who was in league with the dictator of Mars before his slate was wiped, finds any number of nasty new ways to make might right. Upon returning to Mars, the bewildered hero is reunited with Hollywood's current ideal -- a prostitute, Melina (Rachel Ticotin), who also happens to be a member of the resistance led by Kuato (Marshall Bell). Except for the extras, the women are basically whores, including Lori, who has been hired to baby-sit Quaid -- or has she?

Based on the short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale," the movie aims to confound us with its Kafkaism but is merely an overproduced, underpowered catalogue for mayhem. "Total Recall" is a chance to maim, bludgeon, squash and otherwise make mincemeat of one's fellow man. Graphically gooey, it delights in death and celebrates violence as a solution to everything.

Aside from a few terrific effects, "Total Recall" is not good science fiction. Despite the big budget, it is a wasteland of latex prostheses, dreary sets and broken glass. Its main selling point -- the story line -- betrays the audience with its sheepish ending. And its star gives an unusually oafish performance, a cross between Frankenstein's monster, a hockey puck with swollen glands and Col. Klink. Like Stallone, Schwarzenegger is a talking cartoon whose objective is to make violence fun. And they called Conan the barbarian.

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