True Lies Review

Posted: August 8, 2014 by moviebuff801 in Barrage of the Blockbusters, moviebuff801's Movie Reviews, Time Capsule Reviews

Release Date: July 15th, 1994

Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes

Written & Directed by: James Cameron

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Art Malik

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

I seem to have an interesting relationship with writer/director James Cameron’s movies. The ones that are almost universally hailed as great, such as Terminator 2 and Aliens, are films I certainly like, but don’t love. Then there are those like Titanic, of which opinions have gotten either subdued or middling over the years, yet I respond to more strongly. His 1994 action flick, True Lies starring everybody’s favorite Austrian action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger, falls somewhere in the middle. To start off with, this movie isn’t quite as good as I remember it being (of course, I last watched it in my late high school years, a time when admittedly most action movies I saw seemed pretty awesome, dude), but it’s still a helluva good time, basically the kind of movie we expect to get once the pitch of, “it’s a big, inconsequential spy action movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and directed by James Cameron,” is uttered. I’ve certainly seen better offerings from both mentioned parties, but True Lies doesn’t really have high aspirations to begin with, and it achieves those it does have quite well.

Schwarzenegger plays Harry Trasker, an operative of some vague secret spy organization called Omega Force — we learn this only because in one scene, the camera tilts down at the floor of their headquarters to show the seal, which contains the sub-line “The Last Line of Defense.” As the film opens, Harry, aided by his wise-cracking partner Gibson (Tom Arnold) is in the middle of a mission that seems right at home in a James Bond movie: he has to crash the black-tie party of an arms dealer in order to gain information about the latest deal, which involves a terrorist organization known as the Crimson Jihad, led by the elusive Salim Abu Aziz (Art Malik). But Harry’s life isn’t all about covert affairs; he’s married to a woman named Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis), who has no idea about Harry’s spy life, thinking that her husband is merely a computer salesman. But, to Harry’s great surprise, Helen soon gets caught up in his other life in a most unexpected fashion, right as he learns that Crimson Jihad is in possession of nuclear warheads, which, in true terrorist fashion, they plan to use against the U.S. unless their demands aren’t met. All of a sudden, the boring and ordinary life Helen believed her husband to lead doesn’t seem so boring or ordinary anymore.

To reiterate, True Lies is a good film, but it almost feels like two movies awkwardly rolled into one. First, you have all of the scenes devoted to the main storyline, which is Harry racing to stop the Crimson Jihad from detonating the nuclear warheads; whenever the movie is focused on that, it’s really fun, humorous and entertaining. But then you have the movie’s “B plot,” which concerns Harry believing that Helen is having an affair with a man named Simon (Bill Paxton), and thus employs all of the high-tech gadgetry at his disposal to not only learn more about Helen’s activities, but also interfere with them. This sub-plot takes up nearly the entirety of the film’s Second Act, and I’m of two minds when it comes to this segment. On the one hand, it does serve the purpose of bringing out the truth behind Harry’s work to Helen, but on the other, it gets in the way of the momentum of the movie’s main crux, among other things. It’s safe to say that if the two action-packed First and Third Acts of True Lies weren’t so good, then this Second Act would hold the movie back more.

Let’s go ahead and get this Second Act out of the way, shall we? Basically, it involves having Harry use his skills as a professional liar to deceive Helen into thinking she’s been arrested for treason before having her pose as a hooker for a client (really Harry). I already mentioned how this entire section brings all the excitement of the main plot to a standstill, but another issue it has is that through the actions Harry takes, it lends the scenes a pretty mean-spirited tone that sometimes undercuts the humor it’s clearly going for. I won’t deny that the film does succeed in getting laughs when it concerns the Bill Paxton character, but when Harry and Gibson deal with Helen, it just feels off and those are the scenes where it becomes really obvious that this film is overlong by at least a good twenty minutes. Apparently, James Cameron can’t resist longer-than-necessary running times for his big movies. By the time this middle section finally comes to an end and we’re reintroduced back to the important stuff, it’s almost a relief.

Now, back to that important stuff. Action movies and Arnold Schwarzenegger go together like peanut butter and jelly. I mean, of course he’s good in this movie. We get plenty of his charm, badassery and delightfully entertaining one-liners (who doesn’t love “You’re fired”?), but Schwarzenegger’s success here also involves his ability to bring his characters a good amount of likability, which Harry Trasker has — at least, whenever he’s not making his wife think she’s stripping for a complete stranger. As is usually the case, Schwarzenegger is a treat to watch. Jamie Lee Curtis is also good, even though she’s saddled with the typical “clueless wife” material, but she gets even better as the movie goes on. The scenes between her and Schwarzenegger once her character finds out the truth about her husband are especially fun. As the comic relief of the film, Tom Arnold is quite funny and gets a good number of laughs, and he too has some pretty great chemistry with Schwarzenegger. Art Malik, meanwhile, is a pretty standard villain and not much more than that.

Whatever criticisms I may have of James Cameron as a storyteller, I can’t ignore the fact that the man knows how to direct some pretty sweet action. True Lies, as per his M.O., has this in plenty. The opening sequence, like I said, feels like the opening of a James Bond picture in a good way, then there’s a really great sequence about a half hour in that starts as a shootout before quite naturally becoming a horse vs. motorcycle chase. But to top it all off, the last forty-five minutes are essentially three climaxes lined up one after the other, and all executed brilliantly. However, what truly makes the action in this movie so entertaining to me is that Cameron, who also wrote the screenplay (adapted from a 1991 French film) finds clever ways to infuse some genuinely funny humor into these sequences. Most of this comes in the form of witty remarks or asides made by the characters, but there are a few other gems here, such as the moment during the final climax where Aziz sees Harry fly up in a fighter jet out of nowhere, and his face is a perfect reflection of his utter disbelief. What’s missing from that moment, and what would’ve made it even funnier, is a cartoon sound effect to go along with how Aziz’s eyes bulge. Even if you don’t like the rest of the film, I believe the action alone still makes this a worthwhile watch.

Do I consider True Lies to be James Cameron’s best movie? Well, before now, I actually would’ve considered it, but not anymore. Don’t misinterpret me as knocking this film, though, because it’s still a really entertaining, if too long, action excursion. But I will say it’s one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most entertaining movies.


NEXT WEEK: I’m sorry, but you’re gonna have to run.

  1. This is a lame film with an unbelievable plot, but if you don’t take it seriously, it is entertaining–the chase scenes, that is, are the best things about it. Well written review :)

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