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Total Recall (1990) Movie Retro Review By Stephen McLaughlin

Total Recall

Director: Paul Verhoeven
Writers: Philip K. Dick, Ronald Shusett (screen story)
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Ronny Cox, Rachel Ticotin

Paul Verhoeven only gone and done it again. After the massive success of Robocop (1987) the Dutch Director turned his attention to a short story written by Philip K. Dick named “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” and from that spawned the 1990 Schwarzenegger classic “Total Recall”. This movie was part of a long run of successful films for Arnie in this period in his career and a period I consider his best and arguably at his peak a year later in Terminator 2.

Verhoeven once again is a fantastic world builder and creates a look and feel into a used future. Just like “Delta City” in Robocop, this time it’s a seedy and gritty world we live in. Relying on technology a little too much (Hologram Tennis and Johnny Cabs spring to mind.) Dreams of living on Mars and going to a little memory implant service called “Recall” that create and embed in your mind wonderful memories. It’s fair to say Verhoeven created a living breathing and believable bleak future for the human race to look forward to.

Schwarzenegger plays Douglas Quaid. A construction worker who yearns for a better life with his wife Lori (Sharon Stone). Quaid dreams of one day going to Mars and fulfill his destiny. Lori on the other hand appears to want the simpler things in life and doesn’t really have any ambition other than to live an ordinary life. Without consulting Lori and previously being advised to stay away from “Recall” by Lori and his work buddy Harry. Doug decides to have a memory implant designed so that he can become a secret agent on Mars as a little memory present for himself.

Things go wrong when Doug breaks into a full psychotic episode ranting and raving about being double crossed and claiming to already have been to Mars. Trouble is the implant wasn’t even installed into Doug’s brain at this point. In a panic, Recall knock him out and dump him in a cab. It’s fair to say that Doug isn’t having the best of days. In fact as the story progresses he realises that his friends aren’t his friends, his wife isn’t really his wife and his life as Douglas Quaid was never real but in fact a memory implant to hide the secrets of Mars and its atmosphere. The man behind it all is Vilos Cohaagen (Ronny Cox) who dominates control over Mars selling oxygen to the contained environments within the colonies on the red planet.

I saw this movie perhaps a year after its release as I was just about 1 year too young to see this in the cinema as the BBFC gave this movie a 15 certificate. Not to worry though as when I did see it I loved it from the beginning. The characters were larger than life. Almost comic book. The sets although mostly interior, for its day was pretty impressive and gave the audience a good look and idea of this world and worlds that the Director gave us. The storyline as well was surprisingly well thought out and prolonged justifying for its duration. A few twists along the way kept it fresh and the humour was of the same tone as Robocop.

I’m deliberately avoiding any comparisons with the remake from a few years back starring Colin Farrell. So no more talk of that. I’ll keep that for another day. Schwarzenegger and Stone work well together from the kick off. You’ll be convinced they are a happily married couple and within the hour you will be convinced that they are bitter enemies is the talents and abilities of these too fine actors. The chemistry good or bad works for Doug and Lori, “Consider that a divorce”. Michael Ironside as Richter is the man Cohaagen wants to track down Doug and bring him in to have his mind erased again. Ironside is a great villain here. Almost dastardly with a hint of humour who in the end has a grizzly end, “See you at the party, Richter”

Overall Total Recall is quite a layered film that can be enjoyed time and time again. How much of Philip K. Dick short story is utilised I’m unsure of and he deserves the credit for Total Recall being made in the first place but Paul Verhoeven brings the story to life with great pacing, excellent sets, character development throughout the cast and a plot that will have you mesmerised. This is one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s finest films of the time, which is sandwiched in between Twins, Kindergarten Cop and as I previously mentioned Terminator 2. He definitely was on fire at this time and it’s interesting to find Verhoeven originally wanted Schwarzenegger in the role of Robocop initially but with Arnies massive frame hampering him wearing the metal suit that role would go to the leaner Peter Weller. Verhoeven was clearly a fan of Arnold and must have had him in mind very early on for the role of Quaid. If you haven’t seen this movie yet I urge you to give it a try, you might be surprised how well it hold up to today’s standards. Recommended.

RoboCop (1987) Movie Review By Stephen McLaughlin

Robocop Review

Director: Paul Verhoeven
Writers: Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner
Stars: Peter Weller, Ronny Cox, Miguel Ferrer, Nancy Allen and Dan O’Herlihy

Whenever I see the “Orion Pictures” logo appear on my screen I can’t help but think of “RoboCop” that is of course the 1987 version of the now classic movie starring Peter Weller as Officer Alex J. Murphy, a terminally wounded cop who returns to the force as a powerful cyborg named “RoboCop” haunted by submerged memories. Set in Detroit in the near future, the multi corporate OCP practically runs the city and plans to redevelop it into a futuristic landmark named “Delta City”. Dan O’Herlihy is “The Old Man” CEO of OCP and under him is his number two Dick Jones played by the brilliant Ronny Cox who is developing a robotic officer of the law that goes by the name of ED209. Jones’ plans do not go to well in his presentation when a malfunctioning ED209 doesn’t disarm in a trial run and guns down an OCP board member. Witnessing this is Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) a younger and just as ambitious businessman who is ready to run his RoboCop programme and has a few deceased officers on the law on his list to run trials on to meet the requirements needed. 

It’s this sequence that shows the point of view of corporate ruthlessness between OCP’s Board Members and their ambitious driven goals that highlight the world we are witnessing in this film. Not only that but the corporation appears to rely and thrive on crime to control the city and this is more obvious in the relationship between Dick Jones and Clarence J. Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) Boddicker and his gang are responsible for the death of Officer Alex J. Murphy in what must be one of the most remembered execution scenes to date that is still as shocking as it was back in 1987. The fact that Boddicker and his cronies take turns in shooting the isolated Cop is tragic and sadistic. It is only when Boddicker finally puts a bullet in his head that Murphy can find some peace….or so he thought…or so THEY thought. 

Having an outstanding record in the force Officer Alex J. Murphy becomes top of Bob Morton’s list and the creation of RoboCop begins. What I find most interesting about the RoboCop character is that we never leave Murphy behind. His mind is still holding on to past memories which adds to the character and we aren’t left with a hollow creation. RoboCop as the poster said is Half Man, Half Machine, All Cop. His conflicting thought process allows us to feel sympathy for the character and also root for him on his mission to seek out his executioners. It’s ironic that the main villain of the movie in-fact created RoboCop. 

Peter Weller has to be credited for making RoboCop a believable character. Yes for 75% of the movie he is behind the mask, but his motion and voice patterns is what adds to the character. I’m glad we had some screen time with Murphy before his tragic downfall to allow us to understand his brief relationship with his new partner Officer Anne Lewis played by Nancy Allen and to understand that he was a family man who sadly was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Weller’s portrayal allows you be angry with the men who murdered him in cold blood and also allow you to have satisfaction in Murphy’s revenge.

Kurtwood Smith is a terrific villain and it is the role of Clarence J. Boddicker that will always stick with me when I see the actor. It took me a long time to accept his role in the TV comedy “That ’70s Show” as Reginald ‘Red’ Forman. How could such a sadistic evil man be such a lovable Dad in a SitCom? Smith plays a terrific villain but also is a terrific actor. His line delivery is so memorable and quotable to this day from his “Can you fly, Bobby?” to his “Oooh. Guns, guns, guns! C’mon, Sal! The Tigers are playing…tonight. I never miss a game.” That you will enjoy his portrayal of Clarence J. Boddicker, not root for him but enjoy his performance.

Ronny Cox is probably best in his interactions with Miguel Ferrer. Both their characters are ruthless and as I previously mentioned ambitious. Cox’s Dick Jones is a focused cold blooded businessmen (a far cry from his Lt. Bogomil in 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop) that lets nothing stand in his way. His confrontations with Miguel Ferrer’s Bob Morton are intense and you can see how terrifying stepping on Jones’ toes is through Ferrer’s portrayal of the younger businessman. Morton has the swagger and front but Jones will go one stage further to get what he wants which results in Morton’s downfall.

Nancy Allen as Officer Anne Lewis although isn’t in the movie as much as Smith, Cox or Ferrer still has a role to play in the story. Lewis is Murphy’s link to his previous life and Allen does a job. Nothing outstanding but the character is necessary and you can sense Lewis’ guilt in letting her partner down in his hour of need, although it wasn’t her fault what happened to Murphy, Allen portrays the emotional baggage in not having her partners back resulting in his death. 

You can’t think of RoboCop without thinking of Director Paul Verhoeven. His building a world within a world is what makes RoboCop entertaining. From the News Reports to the Crazy Adverts on TV “I’d Buy That For A Dollar” and the “Nukem” board game is what makes Verhoeven’s movies so memorable. There is a fine line between comic book and serious storytelling, possibly more so back in the late 1980’s before Tim Burton’s Batman. The balance of action, storytelling and humour is just perfect here. Visually this film was groundbreaking. The stop animation of ED209 might appear dated now but back in the films release was realistic and terrifying. The look of RoboCop masked and unmasked was also impressive to witness. Add those sound effects of RoboCop’s footsteps and moving limbs and you would believe that RoboCop was a machine. Overall, after 30 years this film is a classic and has that rewatch ability to it. The acting is top notch, the look and pacing of the film by Verhoeven I would consider perfect and add that classic theme written and performed by Basil Poledouris and you have it all. If you haven’t watched the 1987 version of RoboCop, what are you waiting for? Highly Recommended.