True Lies (United States, 1994)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

A few months ago, when speculation was rampant about who would be the next actor to nab the role of James Bond, Arnold Schwarzenegger's name was bandied about as one of the "long shots." Well, Pierce got the job, not Arnold, but for those who wondered what a muscle-bound Austrian 007 might be like, take a look at True Lies. Only here, the name's Tasker. Harry Tasker.

I have yet to decide whether True Lies is a better comedy or action film. It contains heavy elements of both, and plays them equally well. Unlike such failed attempts as Hudson Hawk and Last Action Hero, however, True Lies is a big, grandiose movie that has an immense amount of fun while never taking itself too seriously. A slightly shorter running time would have been appreciated (one-hundred forty minutes is too long for even a very good action film), but, overall, I don't have many complaints.

In the past, James Cameron has proven himself to be a master of action and suspense. Titles like The Terminator and Aliens speak volumes about his talent. His least original film, T2, was still a rollicking good time, if a little limited when it came to a plot. Now, with True Lies, the director has not only reaffirmed his ability to keep viewers on the edge of their seats, but he has shown himself capable of making an audience laugh. One of the best things about True Lies is that it's genuinely funny.

The storyline isn't really all that inventive, although it contains a few original moments. Arnold plays Harry Tasker, a man who leads a double life. At home, with his wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) and daughter Dana (Eliza Dushku), he's a loving, if somewhat meek, husband and father. When he goes off to work, however, he doesn't travel to the sales office where Helen thinks he has a desk. Instead, he joins up with his partner Albert Gibson (Tom Arnold) to save the world. That includes romancing beautiful-but-deadly women like Juno Skinner (Tia Carrere) and squaring off against "wacko" terrorists like Salim Abu Aziz (Art Malik, in a role far from the one that won him praise in The Jewel in the Crown).

The point of True Lies is enjoyment. The plot is a little meatier than that of Speed, but, until the last forty-five minutes, it doesn't thunder along at nearly the same breakneck pace. In fact, the main "terrorist-blackmailing-the-world" story stays in low gear until the film is ninety minutes along. Before then, a lot of time is spent examining the duplicitous relationship between Harry and Helen. When he suspects her of having an affair with a used car salesman (Bill Paxton), the results are hilarious.

As enjoyable as the Harry/Helen proceedings are, they start to drag. What begins as great comic relief grows tiresome before it gives way to something else. After all, with actors of Schwarzenegger and Curtis' limited scope, there's little hope of anything dramatic coming out of this part of the movie. Better to move on, which True Lies eventually does.

Tom Arnold is probably not many people's idea of Arnold Schwarzenegger's ideal sidekick (uh oh, I've got two "Arnolds" in this review -- how to keep them straight...?). In fact, he many not be anyone's ideal Tonto to the big man's Lone Ranger. Surprisingly, however, his wisecracking character works. Had this been a serious film, Roseanne's hubby would have been hopelessly out-of-place, but amidst all the multi-million dollar foolery, he's at home. Comic relief is his job, and he does it admirably.

There are the requisite spectacular explosions, coupled with an expectedly high body count (more people die in the first fifteen minutes of True Lies than in the whole of Speed). This is, after all, an Arnold Schwarzenegger motion picture, and certain things are expected. It certainly delivers a lot more than Last Action Hero did.

True Lies is an old-fashioned, high-tech, fun time at the movies. By not trying to "out-Die Hard" Die Hard, and relying instead on its own brand of mayhem and humor, this movie has injected some much-needed freshness into a genre that always threatening to turn stale. In combination, Speed and True Lies deliver a summer one-two punch that will leave viewers squirming with excitement and gasping for breath.

As for Arnold, even though he doesn't say it this time around, we all know that he'll be back...

True Lies (United States, 1994)

Director: James Cameron
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Tia Carrere, Art Malik, Bill Paxton, Eliza Dushku, Grant Heslov
Screenplay: James Cameron
Cinematography: Russell Carpenter
Music: Brad Fiedel
U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Run Time: 2:20
U.S. Release Date: 1994-07-15
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2:35:1