Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Bill Paxton, Tia Carrere, Art Malik, Eliza Dushku, Grant Heslov, Charlton Heston, Marshall Manesh
Directed by James Cameron
Expectations: High. Haven’t since this in a long time.
True Lies is an interesting entry in the Arnold filmography for me. It’s one that I watched a gazillion times on VHS in the ’90s, but since I hit adulthood I’ve never even had the urge to re-watch it. I would often think back fondly on it, but unlike something like Predator, where a primal “MUST WATCH” urge overtakes me every once in a while, I’ve never longed to see True Lies again. And now that I’ve re-watched it, why I felt this way about True Lies is readily apparent: I’ve already seen it too many times to truly enjoy it.
Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Harry Tasker, an international spy working for the Omega Branch, an ultra-secret arm of the US government focused on counter-terrorism. His wife, Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis), is completely oblivious to this, firmly believing Harry’s cover-up story that all those late nights and weekend trips are diligently spent working at his computer sales job. Meanwhile, an Arab terrorist group called Crimson Jihad is up to no good, and before too long these three main components of the film all crash together with some big ol’ James Cameron action sequences.
What really differentiates True Lies from other action films is that it’s just as much of a romantic comedy as it is an action film. It actually feels like the action is secondary to the relationship woes of Harry and Helen. I guess this is why I’ve always considered this as more of a “mainstream” Arnold action film than a “true” Arnold action film. The action and the comedy work well together — it’s seamless and quite fun — but it’s also the reason I’m never going to unleash a primal Arnold AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH! and thrust the disc into my DVD player. Is this a legitimate criticism of the film? No, not really, especially since I’ve seen the film a gazillion and one times. But since all the romantic comedy stuff is what pads the film out to a very long 138 minutes, I feel like I have a good leg to stand on. Part of my problem also stems from watching these films chronologically, because now I’m in the same situation I was in the mid-’90s when Arnold wasn’t delivering the same brand of action, and I was still wanting more. Oh well.
Even if I was a bit disappointed this time around, True Lies is still a great movie. It contains a lot of wonderful scenes, such as the intro sequence, the fantastic bathroom fight that leads into the motorcycle/horse chase, and, of course, Arnold’s information gathering scene with Bill Paxton in the Corvette. It just occurred to me that all three moments I’ve singled out are in the first half of the film, so I guess even when I try to say that it’s great in spite of my issues, I end up pointing out that the second half pales in comparison.
Part of my problem this time is that I felt really bad for Jamie Lee Curtis’s character. Arnold suspects her of cheating on him, so he brings down the full force of his department onto her, subjecting her to all kinds of traumatic situations. It’s all supposed to be OK because it’s absurdly funny and Arnold misunderstood what was going on, but I still feel bad. I wonder what the audience reaction would be if the genders were reversed. No matter what, Bill Paxton plays the ultimate slimeball and it’s quite fun to see him drop his espionage lines on unsuspecting women.
True Lies is kind of a bridge film for James Cameron, watering down his earlier action-centric pictures with comedy and romance, leading into the full-on romance of Titanic. I love it, I have a great fondness for it, but it just doesn’t do much for me anymore. I’ve seen it too many times, and it’s not the kind of movie that really holds up to repeat watching. At least not anymore. Where I find that the greatest Arnold movies retain their ability to entertain infinitely, True Lies definitely does not. But if you’ve never seen it, definitely check it out. It’s a unique film from one of the greatest American action directors, and it was made before CG effects killed action movies.
Oh, and if you have a Super Nintendo handy, I also recommend you get your hands on the game based on the film. It’s nothin’ but action!
Next up in this chronological journey through the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger is Ivan Reitman’s Junior! At long last, it’s the review you’ve all been waiting for. See ya then!