True Lies (1994)

"Women. Can't live with 'em, can't kill 'em." - Tom Arnold to Arnold

What is James Cameron up to now?  His new movie, TRUE LIES, is *easily*
the most entertaining film of the year.  Forget SPEED, THE LION KING,
and FORREST GUMP, here's a blockbuster that swats those aside like
houseflys.  Talk like a tag line and you'd say that TRUE LIES is "more
exciting than SPEED, more charming than KING, and more humorous than
GUMP." Unquote.  With T2 talent Arnold Schwarzenegger in the lead, James
Cameron has delivered the best Bond movie that Albert Broccoli never

So why are some critics complaining?

TRUE LIES opens in the Alps (!) with secret agent Harry Tasker
(Schwarzenegger) emerging from an icy lake at the edge of a heavily
guarded compound.  Bathed in blue light (of course), he strips off his
wetsuit only to reveal a perfectly pressed tuxedo.  With a dash of
cologne for good measure, Harry steps from the bushes and into the
chateau.  Just like that.

Inside is a party and that's no trouble with Harry.  He mingles, he
flirts, and speaks six different languages.  He even dances the tango
before the inevitable Hasty Exit.  After a dizzying foot/ski/snowmobile
chase right out of ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, Harry hooks up with
his buddies to get down to the real business of tracking a gang of
middle-Eastern terrorists who may be in possession of some stolen
nuclear warheads.

Sound familiar?

The Wall came down and peace came up and, now, we have bug-eyed
Easterners as the token spy-movie villains.  Stereotypes and all.  Tom
Clancy might complain, but not James Cameron.  His fun starts when Agent
Harry Tasker goes *home*.  No, not to some slinky siren from the French
Riviera, but, rather, to a quiet neighborhood outside D.C.

At home is Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis), a legal secretary with (what she
think is) a boring husband with a boring job.  Together, they have one
kid and one dog, but neither is enough to keep Harry home from "business
trips" and "working late."

That is, until Simon (Bill Paxton) shows up.

He's an oily used-car salesman who, get this, is masquerading as spy to
seduce Mrs. Tasker!  Harry finds out and, once his neck veins stop
bulging, executes a wicked revenge that leads to such complications as
Helen's induction into "service" and the couple's abduction by

With enough action and plot for *three* films, TRUE LIES begs the
question:  when is enough enough for James Cameron?  Not content to make
a spy movie, he's also created a *spoof* of a spy movie.  A spoof, mind
you, that's funnier than anything out now.  Watch Arnie butt heads with
a pair of pinschers in the opening scene, if you don't believe me.

But *after* the guns and gags have run their course, the film is still
only half-finished.  TRUE LIES is also about jealousy and the *extreme*
reactions of a husband who thinks his wife is having an affair.  Cameron
pulls no punches here; Harry's abusive treatment of Helen includes one
of the strongest scenes you'll see this summer.

Timely stuff, which begs the question:  why the misogyny?  Has James
Cameron crossed to the other side of the field, after the fight-back
feminism of T2 and ALIENS?  Has the director's personal life finally
soured the "sensitive guy" who's best known for letting his heroines act
tougher than his heroes?

Jamie Lee Curtis *does* get her due.  Of sorts.  Her empowerment comes
at the end, with a cute coda that has the couple living happily every
after.  But the transformation is slight and nothing at all along the
lines of either Linda Hamilton (T2) or Sigourney Weaver (ALIENS).

The men fare worse.  Both Arnie and (Tom) Arnold are as far from PC as
can be.  Their collective locker-room wisdom is off-color, to say the
least, but they are no less appealing than, say, any racist character in
a Quintin Tarantino film.  They work in *spite* of their questionable

The chemistry between Arnie and Jamie alone is worth the price of
admission.  Sure, Arnie is a bit stiff for suave, but what range he
*does* have is put to great use, including some of the lengthiest leers
in film history.  Curtis is wonderful and, with her costar, makes TRUE
LIES seem light years away from either HERCULES IN NEW YORK or
HALLOWEEN.  Their best scene is Harry's rescue of Helen from a
speeding-to-its-doom limo.  Watch the looks.

Tom Arnold is surprisingly solid as Harry's scene-stealing partner.  He
now has a career.  Bill Paxton, who once said some very bad things to
the Terminator, is an over-the-top, raunchy riot as Simon.  Art Malik,
good as the Hissable Villain, gets a great double-take near the end.
And even Charleton Heston breezes through with two tart scenes as an
agency head.

Only Tia Carrere sticks out like a sore thumb.  She has the looks, but
the not the chops, to hold her own with these pros.

Cameron's script, adapted from the little known French farce LA TOTALE,
has more wit than the genre typically permits.  But, then again, a James
Cameron film typically *defines* the genre it's in and not vice versa.
Watch how deftly the director mixes campy comedy and sexy sincerity into
Helen's strip tease (don't ask).  It's the best scene in the film.

Last, but by no means least, are the show-stoppers.  Try a horse chasing
a motorcycle onto the roof of a skyscraper. Or a public restroom
shootout that's a ballet with bullets. Or a great car chase through the
Florida Keys sans section of bridge.  Scene after scene after stunt
after stunt-- all as a fabulous $100 million dollar reminder of why
James Cameron is one of the top technically accomplished filmmakers on
the planet.  (Rated "R"/141 min.)

BOTTOM LINE:  The most entertaining film of the year.  Period.  Go see
it a third time.

Grade: A

Copyright 1994 by Michael J. Legeros

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