Picks and Pans Review: Total Recall

updated 06/18/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/18/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Ironside

Maybe you've just started admiring the effects—which are as clever and slickly executed as any movie has ever had. Maybe you're liking the throwaway jokes, such as a newspaper vending machine selling copies of Mars Today, complete with USA Today logo. Maybe you're musing on the possibilities of a plot about a government agent on Mars whose memory is erased and replaced with that of a construction worker on Earth.

Just about then, KA-BLONTZ! BAROOOOOM! SPLURFF-GRAB-HOWL! TWIST-SQUISH-RIP-BLEED! A boring machine comes through a wall. Somebody blasts away with an automatic weapon. Somebody else gets kicked in the crotch. Arn gets an urge to crush some bad guy's larynx. The movie that should have been called Total Violence is back in business.

So pervasive is the mayhem—there must be two dozen fights—that the virtues of the film, directed by Paul (RoboCop) Verhoe-ven, are submerged in blood and noise.

Taken from a story by sci-fi favorite Phillip K. Dick, the plot focuses on a power-hungry villain, Ronnie (RoboCop) Cox, governor of a mining colony on Mars. Facing a rebellion, he is worried Schwarzenegger knows too much about his operation.

Meanwhile Arnold seems happily married to the ineffably beautiful but rather effably talented Sharon (Above the Law) Stone, to whom he actually says, "Come on, Baby, you know you're da girl uff my dreams," in full-fledged, romantic seriousness. But when Schwarzenegger decides to go on a simulated vacation—via memory implants—Cox's plan seems to break down, and enforcer Michael (Top Gun) Ironside is sent in to straighten it out. (In order to understand this movie, the above plot description should be interrupted four or five times by someone pounding his fist in the middle of the page or setting it on fire.)

Arnold ends up on Mars among the rebels, mostly mutants ingeniously created by makeup effects expert Rob Bottin. (A bar scene seems to consciously one-up the Star Wars set piece—literally one-upping it in the case of a hooker who opens her shirt to expose three breasts.) The visual effects, under supervisor Eric Brevig, are diverting too, including a hologram at-home tennis lesson—with the pro teacher appearing to stand right next to the student. As Schwarzenegger and Rachel (Critical Condition) Ticotin lead the revolt, the pyrotechnics increase, and the script, by Gary Goldman, Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett, gradually flames out. The movie even recycles James Bond-reject jokes, such as Arnold skewering a villain with a drill-like device, then saying, "Screwyou."

The climax's highlight is watching one character explode, in eye-bulging detail, from being exposed to the low air pressure on Mars's surface. By this time, the science is gone from the science fiction, and the fun is long departed. You are left with the enjoyment, satisfaction or whatever it is supposed to be, of watching people make other people suffer. (R)

From Our Partners