Rewatched Aug 07, 2012
Few big-budget action movies work on multiple levels. Most are just brain-dead violence and shallow spectacle... Especially ones starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. At first glance, Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall fits that bill to a tee. Ultra-violent and full of one-liners, it seems like the last gasp of big-budget, ludicrous action-filled practical effects blockbusters before CGI took over. Verhoeven is too smart for it to be just that, though.
By questioning the reality of what's happening to Quaid, he also brings into question our tastes as moviegoers. Why is the violence so enjoyable? Why do we love our heroes spouting one-liners after dispatching bad guys? Why does the swearing sound so great? The film never judges one way or the other and never tips its hand as to whether or not Quaid is really experiencing these events or if it's all a psychotic dream.
What you end up with is a satire of ultra-violent action movies that works exceedingly well as an ultra-violent action movie. The cast is game for it, with Ronny Cox at his snarling best, Michael Ironside aggressively hateable, Sharon Stone never looking hotter (or angrier) and a cast of genre dudes that all add the appropriate amount of flavor. Rob Bottin's makeup effects still look great, the action is super-solid (nobody makes better use of blood squibs than Verhoeven) and the pace rarely ever lets up.
The question is, were we supposed to enjoy it this much?