TRUE LIES

1994    20th Century Fox

Produced by Stephanie Austin and James Cameron

Written And Directed by James Cameron

Based on a screenplay written by Claude Zidi, Simon Michael and Didier Kaminka

TRUE LIES is the closest you’ll come to seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger play James Bond. Seriously. The first ten minutes of the movie is practically a Bond movie pre-credits sequence that is homage to the pre-credits sequence of “Goldfinger”, complete with Arnold peeling off the wetsuit he’s just used to swim in sub-zero waters to infiltrate a Swiss chalet and reveal an immaculate tuxedo. Arnold then proceeds to effortlessly make his way through the chalet. Whenever he’s caught in someplace he’s not supposed to be, he gets out of trouble with such style that I think even Sean Connery would nod his head in admiration. Caught in the kitchen he demands to see the head chef and asks him: is he serving this food to his dog? When braced by the gorgeous Juno Skinner (Tia Carrera) who may be a deadly terrorist, he takes her out on the dance floor and they do a tango so sensual that for her it’s the next best thing to an orgasm. Of course, after all that, Arnold has to escape guards with machine guns, savage attack dogs as well as pursuing him down a mountain on skis and snowmobiles.

And after he survives all that, he goes back to Washington and his nice quiet life as Harry Tasker, computer salesman. His wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) and his daughter Dana (Eliza Dushku) have no idea that Harry actually works for The Omega Sector, a triple secret government counter-terrorist-super-spy agency. As far as Harry’s family is concerned, he’s a boring, workaday businessman and they have no idea that during the day he’s out having wild adventures saving the world from supervillains and terrorists bent on destroying it. Especially Helen, who really wishes that their lives were more exciting. To spice up her own life she’s been flirting with Simon (Bill Paxton) a used car salesman who’s flim-flamed Helen into thinking he’s a spy and she’s helping him on an assignment.

Now here’s where the fun starts: Harry and his team (Tom Arnold, Grant Heslov) are on the trail of a terrorist and during their investigation come across the fact that Helen and Simon are playing spy. At first they think it’s for real then they find that Simon is a phony and Helen just wants a little excitement in her life. So Harry decides to give it to her and let her actually play spy. He gives her an ‘assignment’ that goes horribly wrong. Both Harry and Helen are kidnapped by Salim Abu Aziz, the dreaded “Sand Spider” (Art Malik) who has smuggled four nuclear weapons into The United States with the help of Juno Skinner. It’s up to Harry and Helen to save The United States from total nuclear annihilation. If they can put their marital differences aside long enough

TRUE LIES is a movie that knows how to work both comedic and action elements in the same movie and not have either one dominate. There’s just enough action to keep us on the edge of our seats and just enough comedy to give us a break into the wild action sequences. I think the movie’s most inspired notion is that of the fact that Harry Tasker is a James Bond/Nick Fury level superspy who saves the world during the day but at night goes home to his wife who nags at him to take out the garbage and his daughter who lifts twenty bucks from his wallet when he’s not looking. James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger have done this dance a couple times before with the “Terminator” movies so they know how to make action movies and this one is no exception. There are a whole lot of terrific action sequences in this one that makes me wish that James Cameron would get a shot a James Bond movie, including a fight in a bathroom between Harry Tasker and two assassins that could have been a template for the bathroom fight in “Casino Royale”. There’s even a great visual gag in that one of the assassins is dressed in a similar fashion the way Arnold Schwarzenegger was dressed in the first “Terminator” movie and enters the bathroom in the same manner Schwarzenegger entered the club Linda Hamilton was hiding in.

The scene where Harry on horseback chases Salim on motorcycle through two hotels, up elevators and over rooftops is one of those sequences where you say to yourself “How in the @#$%^&*! did they film that sucker?” but don’t try and figure it out. Just sit back and enjoy the action because it’s a whole lotta fun. James Cameron can film action and he certain does it here as there’s maybe five or six action sequences in the movie. And we’re talking really major action sequences here.

And if anybody had told me I’d be praising Tom Arnold as the major acting standout of a movie I’d have punched them in the eye. But it’s true: Tom Arnold has never had a better role or acted better than he did in TRUE LIES. He’s Harry’s backup man and he proves he’s Harry’s friend as well in a surprising sober and emotional moment when Harry finds out about Helen and Simon. Arnold doesn’t go for the easy laugh in the scene. He goes for the gut and he gets it and he sells the scene. Charlton Heston has a couple of scenes as Harry’s boss and I swear Heston could have passed for an elderly Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Jamie Lee Curtis is absolutely outstanding as Helen Tasker and she transforms from dowdy housewife to superspy sexbomb in a manner that is absolutely breathtaking. There’s a scene about 90 minutes into the movie where she does a striptease/dance that has to be seen to be believed and it’s obvious she’s having a great time making the movie. As does everybody else in the cast.

As for Arnold…well, can we ever really say that Arnold Schwarzenegger really acts? But I respect him in that he knows what he can do and he does it very well. Let’s face it; we don’t go to an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie for Academy Award level acting. We’ve got other actors for that. We go to see Arnold blow shit up real good and deliver great one-liners. He does that here but he also gives us enough of Harry Tasker, the family man that we’re quietly amused and we even buy it. I liked to see Arnold try and play a family man because he wisely didn’t try to oversell us on the idea. The whole thing is that Harry is distant from his family so Arnold doesn’t have cutesy-cuddly scenes with his daughter or trying to relate to his wife to “work out their relationship”. Because if he was that type of guy he wouldn’t be in the situation he is now.

So should you see TRUE LIES? Hell, yes. I’ll be honest with you, though…there’s a section in the middle of the movie where Harry pulls off the team that is supposed to be gathering information on The Sand Spider’s terrorist organization and he uses them to follow his wife that kinda drags. Cameron could have trimmed those scenes and given us a tighter movie. But since you’ll probably be watching TRUE LIES at home on DVD or DVR you can skip through those scenes if you want. In any case, TRUE LIES is a superior action movie that also works as a comedy and doesn’t try and be anything more than what it’s designed to be.

144 minutes

Rated: R