Sunday 25 June 2017

Movie Review: True Lies (1994)

A tongue-in-cheek spy thriller with a big dose of domestic intrigue, True Lies combines a big budget action spectacle with the travails of a married couple keeping secrets from each other.

Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) lives a double life. He works as a globe-trotting spy for Omega Sector, a national security counterterrorism agency, but back in Washington DC his wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) and daughter Dana (Eliza Dushku) believe that he is a boring computer systems salesman. Harry and his partner Albert Gibson (Tom Arnold) uncover a plot by glamorous art dealer Juno Skinner (Tia Carrere) and jihadist terrorist Salim Abu Aziz (Art Malik) to detonate stolen nuclear warheads in the United States.

Meanwhile Helen is getting bored with being physically and emotionally abandoned by Harry, and is slowly falling prey to the smarmy charms of used car salesman Simon (Bill Paxton) pretending to be a spy. Harry uncovers Helen's near-infidelity and without revealing his true identity provides her with a fake mission to boost the level of excitement in her life. When Aziz's men intervene and capture both Harry and Helen, the married couple have to confront each other and disrupt the terrorist plot.

Director James Cameron reunites with Schwarzenegger, and while True Lies is far from recreating the magic of the first two Terminator movies, it does deliver a silly fun time. Inspired by the French film La Totale! by Claude Zidi, everything is exaggerated with an overdose of stunts, destruction and special effects. The final 45 minutes is a non-stop cascading climax featuring explosions, endless firefights, rocket launchers, Harrier jets, helicopters, one blown up Florida bridge and several severely damaged high rises. None of it is subtle or even smart, but it is breathlessly entertaining.

What sets True Lies apart is a middle act that takes a break from the terrorist plot and delves into the troubled married life of Harry and Helen, In turn awkward and intriguing, Helen's clumsy drift towards having an affair to add excitement to her dull life with Harry adds an ironic element. What follows is original, funny and disturbing, as Harry's treatment of Helen certainly provides her with a thrill but also borders on abusive.

The rest of the film is James Bond on a really big budget and a little bit of laughing gas. Schwarzenegger slips comfortably into the suave spy persona, and even enjoys a tango twirl with Carrere at a swish Swiss villa bad guy gathering spot. The terrorist conspiracy is short-changed Bond-style into the barest of caricature characters hissing evil, but this being seven years ahead of September 11 2001, Cameron deserves some credit for predicting the zeal of jihadist groups.

Supporting Schwarzenegger is a game Jamie Lee Curtis who adds immeasurably to the film in a role that's much more than the token wife. Tom Arnold and Bill Paxton are the main sources of humour, while Charlton Heston pops up in a short role as the head of Omega Sector before disappearing entirely.

At two hours and twenty minutes the film is sloppily edited and much longer than it needs to be, Cameron extending almost every scene beyond what is necessary. True Lies is over the top in every respect, a case of too much of everything still providing something for everyone.

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