Bored construction worker Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) seeks a quick thrill with memory implants of a spy adventure on Mars. But when the procedure goes wrong, Quaid realises he’s actually a secret agent called Hauser, so he heads off to Mars for a real-life spy adventure.
This is peak Schwarzenegger, as he gives one of his best perfomances with a script made almost entirely of quotable lines, and names which sound ridiculous when uttered in the actor’s garbled drawl. Its so quintissentially Arnie, in fact, that it spawned his first political slogan (a recall election in California) and the name of his autobiography.
It represents a pinnacle of pre-CGI practical effects, as aninmatronic heads seamlessly replicate human actors for wacko body horror sequences. It was the one of the most expensive films ever made at the time, and was only made by Carolco after previous Arnie film Raw Deal made Dino De Laurentiis go bust and sell the rights.
Based on a Philip K. Dick novel, it might have been substantially reworked for Arnie but it still has Dick all over it. The hall of mirrors story is deliberately ambiguous in every way. Not only is there the question of whether this is a real experience or an implanted one, it’s also never really clear who Quaid/Hauser actually is and how far his mission has been manipulated by Mars boss Cohagan (Ronny Cox). It’s not just mindless entertainment, it’s a genuinely intriguing mystery, in a way never matched by its dire remake.
It’s a non-stop, action-packed, rib-tickling, edge-of-your-seat and surprisingly intriguing movie which is a total success, and deserves to be fondly recalled 30 years after its original release.