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True Lies (1994)

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Score: 10/10

Genre: Action Running Time: 2 hrs. 21 min.

Release Date: July 15th, 1994 MPAA Rating: R

Director: James Cameron Actors: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Bill Paxton, Tia Carrere, Art Malik, Eliza Dushku, Grant Heslov, Charlton Heston

“T

rue Lies” is perhaps the most well-balanced action movie ever made. Director James Cameron doesn’t have too many films to his name (though they each pack a wallop, including “The Terminator,” “Aliens,” and “The Abyss”), but each one, with a smartly rounded dose of suspense and comedy, certainly sets a benchmark for their various genres. With surprisingly keen humor, a story that resonates beyond merely tying together stunts, high-octane adventure choreography, femme fatales (and strong female roles), and secret agent doodads, “True Lies” is one of the most memorable, perfectly paced, utterly enjoyable actioners of the ‘90s.

It begins in Switzerland, in a classic James Bond scenario: Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) emerges from a pond and strips off his wetsuit to reveal an unsoiled tuxedo. After a rousing tango with ancient artifact expert Juno Skinner (Tia Carrere), he must execute his specifically detonative mission. With spot-on music by Cameron regular Brad Fiedel, this segment is one of the last great opening sequences – it seems no one likes to start a film this way anymore.

The picture ambles down a completely different direction when Harry’s wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) is introduced. She has a boring office job, sees very little of her husband, and believes he’s a rather unexciting computer company businessman. In reality, he covertly works for the government’s last line of defense, known as Omega Sector, fighting the terrorist faction Crimson Jihad.

When Harry accidentally discovers that Helen is cheating on him with a mysterious spy named Simon (Bill Paxton), Tasker uses all of his secret agent connections to win her back. A brilliantly comedic interlude suspends the mayhem momentarily, allowing for Harry’s partner Albert Gibson (Tom Arnold) to set up a complex revenge scheme against a slimy used car salesman. In the meantime, the Crimson Jihad intends to detonate a nuclear warhead in the U.S., pressuring Harry’s professional life to put his personal life in very serious danger.

Aside from the “Terminator” films, which quite appropriately cast Schwarzenegger for his physique rather than his ability to deliver a line of dialogue, few projects demonstrate his ability to act. The term may be used loosely, but an indefinable, undeniable chemistry exists in his interactions with Jamie Lee Curtis, who also delivers a brave and revealing performance (which garnered a Golden Globe Best Actress win), as well as with Tom Arnold, who capably complements every one of Arnold’s macho moments. This is, in part, due to a masterly script by James Cameron (based on the French film “La Totale!”), adapting hysterical comedic situations – many adorned with realistic, violent slapstick – with his grandly Hollywoodized flair (and making sensational use of a sizable budget).

Here, innovative stunts and plenty of explosions similarly demonstrate Cameron’s knack for over-the-top thrills. Hair-raising shootouts, a motorcycle/horse chase through the Marriott, the most rewardingly nerve-wracking torture scene ever shot, and a spirited catfight (segueing into an unforgettable car chase) are just a few of the best bits. And most are embellished with dependable exhilaration-boosting firepower, such as flamethrowers, grenades, and missiles. A lot of the amusement springs up from the fact that the bad guys get it real good, as only the likes of the musclebound Schwarzenegger can render. “True Lies” is not without flaws, but it’s also not without nonstop action, buddy-cop laughs, marital discourse machinations, terrorist chaos, and a thematically recurring tango. There’s never a dull moment in this genuinely entertaining, guilty-pleasure extravaganza.

– Mike Massie

 



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