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Arnold May Leave You Feeling Less Than Pumped Up

By Stephen J. Newman

Total Recall

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger

Directed by Paul Verhoeven

At the Harward Square Cinema

Total Recall is a coward. That's right, Arnold, you heard me, I'm calling your movie a girlie-man.

Now, Arnold, put me down. I wouldn't dream of maligning your acting talent, or your sense of comedic timing. After all, there's no way in the world this movie would work starring someone like Don Knotts. Without a doubt, when there's killing to be done, Arnold Schwarzenegger is the right man for the job. And he's always so cheerful about his work.

You see, Arnold, I am criticizing the director--Paul Verhoeven of Robocop fame--for failing to make this flick different from any other Arnold movie. In every one, the indestructible Arnold runs around blowing things up and blowing people away, usually with the final goal of destroying something really important. Not that this can't be fun, but it just tends to get boring after a while.

Sure, Verhoeven tried: Total Recall does escape the formula at times. The movie was funny, and, on occassion, Arnold even says something witty (okay, once, maybe twice). On the whole, up until the last 20 minutes, Total Recall demonstrates unexpected creativity, showing that blood-and-guts flicks don't have to be mindless.

Most of that creativity, however, comes not from the director, but from Phillip K. Dick's original short story, "We Can Remember it for you Wholesale," the basis for Total Recall. Dick's story, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep," was developed into the movie Blade Runner.

The movie begins with Arnold as Doug Quaid, a humble, happily married construction worker. All he wants to do is take a vacation to Mars, but his wife doesn't want to go.

But because this is the future, if he can't go to Mars in person, he can pay Rekall Inc. to implant a memory in his mind so he'll think he went to Mars and had a terrific time.

Better than a rocket ship, and a lot safer, the people at Rekall tell our hero. Naturally, something goes dreadfully wrong. Out of the blue, all sorts of people try to kill Arnold, so he has to kill them first. He is the target of an interplanetary conspiracy. He finds he can save the innocent people of Mars if he..

Wait a minute. What if it's just a manufactured memory? Is Arnold really Arnold, or is Arnold really someone else? Or does Arnold just think he's someone else? Total Recall quickly becomes a futuristic version of Robert Ludlum's spy classic The Bourne Identity, in which the protagonist may or may not be the world's most dangerous political assassin.

Unfortunately, the director cuts short the psychological drama--he was apparently afraid that he would drive away his audience if he lets too much time go by without spilling some blood--and turns a thinker's flick into a straight shoot-em-up. And that's where the movie fails.

The ending falls completely flat when Arnold returns to his old standby job as indestructible Terminator. He bends steel bars; he rips people's arms off; he shoots really big guns; yeah, yeah, yeah, we've seen it all before.

Sure, the special effects are great, up until the ending. The mutants are really gross, but in good way. The automated taxicabs are terrific, as are a few other gadgets thrown in here and there. The gunfight inside the subway metal detector shows how computer-assisted animation has revolutionized the movie-making art. And the gunfight on the escalator (really part of the same sequence) proves that a director can be creative within the standard cinema forms.

The Martian landscape and domed cities are good, but some may mind that basic physics, chemistry and planetary geology are completely ignored. One example of Total Recall's revised laws of nature: bad guys die instantly in a vacuum, but good guys live long enough to be rescued. Another: melting ice releases oxygen.

And to really make things worse, the ending depends completely on such absurdities, or else it makes no sense whatsoever. It's as if the director hopes to overpower the viewers with special effects so that they won't mind the obvious logical flaws. He seems to say, "You should be impressed by how much I've spent on latex and fake fog."

In the end, Verhoeven doesn't face down his fear and try to maintain the creativity of the early part of the movie. Instead he just falls back on the same old action-picture formulas.

See Total Recall simply for its entertainment value, but don't get your hopes up for something inspiring.

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