I love a good Arnie movie.
Actually if I’m perfectly honest I’m quite fond of a few bad ones too.
There are a handful of actors, Michael Caine and Sean Connery being notable examples, who I can pretty much watch in any old rubbish and still find some enjoyment. Schwarzenegger may not challenge the greats with his acting ability, but for me he fits nicely into that category of actors. In many ways it’s a strange phenomenon. Re-cast the lead in a film like Jingle all the Way and it would paradoxically be a much poorer film. Not that it’s a great film anyway, but imagining, for example Denzel Washington charging around and delivering lines about his desperation to find a Turbo Man and it would make an already pretty thin script seem frankly ridiculous. It’s entirely the sense of fun and his particular brand of charisma that lifts the film from being a totally irredeemable mess into something that in the right circumstances with a mince pie and a glass of sherry can actually be quite enjoyable.
Like Caine and Connery though we know that Arnie has the ability to be much more than just a charismatic screen presence, which brings me on to Total Recall. There are plenty of contenders for my favourite Arnie performance, but I can’t look past this 1990 sci-fi classic. Here he is afforded the chance to demonstrate a range not often seen in a lot of his more straightforward action movies. Not that this is a totally atypical role for him. He still gets to be the action hero and there are witty quips and quotable lines galore (“Consider that a divorce” and “You think this is the real Quaid…it is” are particular highlights). Schwarzenegger is in his element on this familiar ground, but the complexities of the story require significantly more from him this time round and he more than delivers the goods.
Watching Total Recall 27 years after it’s release it’s impressive how well it still stands up. Of course there are some elements that look dated (nothing dates a vision of the future more than graphics and fonts on a computer – see also the Doctor Who serial State of Decay). Overall though the effects work, the prosthetic work alone is remarkable, the twist-laden storyline works and crucially, Arnie definitely works. This is most impressively demonstrated as *Spoiler Alert* we reach the twist at the end of the movie. For the majority of the film he has played the confused, desperate hero trying to remember the information he knows will help save his friends in the resistance. It’s when we discover that he has had his memory altered and been planted as a double agent, much to his own surprise that we see the quality of his performance. As he appears to himself on video we see an image of the same man, but instead of confused and desperate he appears slick, confident, cocky and frankly a massive arsehole. The twist works because he is simultaneously believable as the same person, but an entirely different character and it’s Arnie’s performance that sells it.
I do love a good Arnie movie and Total Recall is a very good Arnie movie.