Before I begin, I just want to say that my criticism doesn't negate the universally acknowledged truth that Total Recall is the raddest movie on this planet so you can refrain from defending the film's honor in the comments. As Quaid would say: "Relax. You'll live longer." Total Recall's a gift to mankind, but the plot's more problematic than the fact that the moviemakers snuck this upsetting depiction of female genitalia past the MPAA ratings board so let's get started.
1. Why has brain surgery become safer than commercial travel?
The most persuasive part of the Rekall agent's pitch is that implanting vacation memories is safer than taking an actual real vacation. He says, "traveling with Rekall is safer than getting on a rocket." Just look at their handy graph that shows the relationships between Fatalities and Years for SHUTTLE and REKALL with no numbers displayed:
This movie takes place 70 years in the future, and since nobody can get Elon Musk to stop talking about transporting everyone to Mars, I think we can assume that normal commercial travel has progressed to include interplanetary rockets. For years now, we've been reassured that taking a plane is safer than driving a car, so what the heck happened to the safety standards of the airline industry? If risking lobotomy is preferable to taking the future equivalent of a transatlantic flight, this must mean that nearly all shuttles crash.
I have a possible explanation for this disturbing development in human progress: pilots keep crashing planes because they all had their brains scooped out after selecting Rekall's shady Saturn cruise package.
2. Why does Douglas Quaid believes he's anything other than a secret agent?
The first twist this movie introduces is that Quaid is not a normal construction worker, he's actually a secret agent. Can you believe that?!?!?!
Of course you can. That actually makes perfect sense. Look at Douglas Quaid. He's a giant throbbing muscle with a face.
Quaid, why would you believe you're a normal guy with a normal job? Have you ever looked in the mirror? You look like you were engineered in a lab. No human womb could produce you. No human womb could CONTAIN you.
3. Why did Quaid choose the old woman disguise?
Because he's a wanted man, Quaid has to make it through Mars customs unrecognized. He decides to employ the secret agent trope of a good disguise. Does he wear glasses? A wig? An elaborate and impractical Mission Impossible mask?
Nope, he goes with the classic Giant Woman Suit.
I mean, this seems like a fine disguise until it malfunctions almost immediately after being asked one too many questions, specifically TWO questions. It turns out that Quaid only succesfully programmed the Lady Mech Suit to say "Two weeks" (and "Get ready for a surprise," which seems pretty useless in a customs situation). Apparently he didn't anticipate the customs agent asking about anything besides the duration of his stay.
Once he's been discovered, Quaid takes the Woman's head off and flings it at Michael Ironside (aka that well-employed Jack Nicholson impersonator) before it explodes. That means not only was Quaid wearing a poorly programmed robot head, he was also wearing a ticking time bomb.
No gifs or pictures will capture this scene. You must watch it in all of its glory:
Quaid chose a disguise that not only would reveal him after little to no scrutiny (the skeleton scanners shown earlier in the film don't catch a giant man wearing a woman's skinsuit???) but could also blow up at any moment. And Quaid's considered the best secret agent Mars has to offer, the only man that could be trusted with Cohaagen's master plan. More on that later.
4. Why does a man sweating prove that Quaid isn't dreaming?
In true Philip K. Dick fashion, the movie has a mindfuck moment in which Dr. Edgemar, the head of the Rekall memory implantation agency, appeals to Quaid and tries to convince him that everything he has experienced is part of a vacation implant malfunction.
Quaid is almost tricked by this laughably absurd explanation until a single droplet of sweat foils the Doctor's plan. Quaid takes the sweat-bead on Dr. Edgemar's face as inarguable proof that everything he has experienced is real.
Uhhhh let's take a moment to break down this logic. He figures the Doc would only perspire if he were nervous and he would only be nervous if everything that is happening is real, if Quaid's really there on real Mars holding a real gun to the real Doctor's head.
However, Dr. Edgemar says if he doesn't convince Quaid to take the red pill and awaken from his schizoid embolism, then Quaid will enter a permanent state of psychosis, meaning that this is a tense situation for Dr. Edgemar. Another high profile malpractice suit could cost him his business. It makes perfect sense that his embodiment in Quaid's dream would be stressin'.
Can't a man sweat in peace without getting a bullet to the brain?
5. WTF IS KUATO'S DEAL?
What separates Kuato from the mutants we see earlier in the film is that he doesn't hang out exclusively in the speakeasy (except for that lone mutant child that Quaid takes a quick break from beating up his fake wife and using bystanders as human bullet shields to stroke lovingly on the cheek). That and the fact that the rest of the mutants seem to be humans with a few minor cosmetic differences. Meanwhile, Kuato is a balding Chucky doll grafted onto a grown man's torso.
Before Quaid meets Kuato, he asks the man who's given up precious tummy territory to house Kuato: "You're Kuato, right?"
The man replies: "Wrong. Kuato's a mutant. So don't get upset when you see him."
Then, he pulls back his shirt and reveals Kuato.
His answer to Quaid's question implies the man's identity is separate from Kuato's. He also appears to be asleep when Kuato is talking.
If one must sleep while the other is awake, then have the two ever spoken to one another? Was the man born with Kuato on him? Or did he hit puberty and start going through some pretty big changes? How does the man decide when to wake Kuato up? Does Kuato get a say in where they go? How do they trade consciousness? Does Kuato eat? Does he poop?
See, these are the questions that the reboot should have answered.
6. Erasing a man's memory, deploying undercover agents and organizing a costly and elaborate fake manhunt was the only way to dismantle the Martian resistance movement? REALLY?
The final twist of the movie is unfortunately not Quaid showing us the location of Kuato's butthole. Instead, it's Cohaagen explaining that the film's true villain is Quaid himself.
Cohaagen reveals that he and Hauser (Quaid's name before he went undercover) decided to wipe Hauser's memory so he could return as ignorant Quaid and infiltrate the resistance movement. He explains that nobody else was in on this plan so as to maintain Quaid's cover. The entire manhunt was a ruse. Countless of his henchmen died because of this completely bananas scheme.
Not only is this plan needlessly complicated and incomprehensibly ridiculous, it's unsuccessful. I mean, Quaid almost DIDN'T infiltrate the spy system because Melina and her fellow resistance fighters found his story about having his memory erased and being placed on Earth hard to believe.
Also, the memory wipe ultimately backfired because Quaid did become sympathetic to the mutants' plight (aka he wanted to bone Melina real bad, like, really bad) and he helped them topple Cohaagen's empire. And this is what happened to Cohaagen:
7. Why does Benny say he needs three hands when talking to the three-breasted woman?
He doesn't need three hands to fondle those boobs. He's got those long mutant fingers.
He would have managed just fine. Too bad Benny did end up getting screwed, just not the way he wanted.