Movie still from 1994's "True Lies."

True Lies June 7, 2017        

 

But notable is the way its premier characteristics don’t much have to do with its carnage-oriented parts. They, instead, have to do with the amusing characterizations and the various comedic misunderstandings that multiply as boundlessly as a handful of set pieces in an I Love Lucy episode. It’s everything one could ever want from an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle and more, particularly because the tongue-in-cheek wiles are so amped.

 

A remake of La Totale, a 1991 French comedy with an identical premise, True Lies finds Schwarzenegger living a double life. By day, he’s an internationally respected super spy working for Omega Force, a black ops counter-terrorism task force. By night, he’s husband to Helen (a phenomenal Jamie Lee Curtis), a diffident office drone, and father to Dana (Eliza Dushku), a rebellious teen. To his co-workers, he’s essentially the closest thing one can come to James Bond in the real world. To his family, he’s merely Harry Trasker, mild-mannered and maybe even a little dull.

 

He thinks his life is as close to idyllic as it can be for a secret agent. But then it’s revealed that his world really isn’t as thoroughly picture perfect as he's been thinking all these years: Helen, feeling dissatisfied, has begun rendezvousing with a man named Simon (Bill Paxton). Harry is convinced she’s having an affair. But the truth is slightly more complicated than that: Simon has persuaded Helen into thinking he’s a CIA operative who needs her for an assignment. This, predictably, isn’t true — some time later do we find that Simon is actually a used car salesman and that he performs the same charade for various women around the area in order to get in their pants.

 

A couple twists later and Simon is long gone, But Harry, wanting to give Helen the exciting dose of intrigue she’s looking for, assigns her to pose as a prostitute and seduce someone she believes to be an enemy. That enemy, thankfully, is simply Harry lurking in the shadows. By the end of her striptease will Harry reveal himself, maybe in a way that will expose the secret he’s so carefully kept tucked away for 15 years.

 

The sequence, however, is interrupted by a throng of terrorists whom Harry irked earlier in the film barging into the hotel room in which the dirty work is going down. Harry and Helen, with the latter still under the impression that she’s the spy and Harry’s the boring salesman, are kidnapped by the terrorist group — known as the Crimson Jihad — and taken to the Florida Keys. 

 

Upon arrival do the film’s primary antagonists, antiques dealer Juno (Tia Carrere) and Jihad leader Salim Abu Aziz (Art Malik), let it be known that they plan to detonate a horde of nuclear warheads in major cities across the United States, unless the military halts their involvement with the Persian Gulf. Harry and, to his dismay, Helen must come up with a way to escape and save the cities under attack.

 

All in store is ludicrous. But Cameron, among cinema’s best action directors, balances flash and humor like the grizzled pro that he is. The action is both gigglingly silly and breathlessly ambitious, a razzly dazzly concoction of euphoric fun and jaw-dropping adrenaline bait. The dialogue is even better, full of one-liners that soar because the movie is smart enough to know that the combo of high-octane aspiration and general farcicality makes winking asides acceptable. Even the physical comedy works as well as the various throwdowns and gun battles — Curtis is especially good as the mousy wife who has to play action heroine as best she can.

 

On the regular, True Lies is a wonderful time, an exemplification of the wonders of particularly inspired escapism. But I cannot go on singing praises without pointing out the datedness of its treatement of women and the Palestinian population: Undoubtedly is Harry’s stalking and humiliating of his wife following her “infidelities” profoundly misogynistic, and the one-dimensional villainy of the movie’s primary lunatic makes him little more than a breeding ground for Gulf War-fresh, harmful stereotypes.

 

But I suppose I have to consider that the movie was made in 1994 and that a Schwarzenegger/Cameron team-up will have more by way of sleek action than overt political correctness. I won’t deny that I had a great time watching True Lies. If it were more conscientious in its writing (which is still effective), I’d maybe even call it a masterpiece. But in good conscience, I cannot.  A-

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nlike so many multi-million dollar action movies produced with the intent of making a billion, James Cameron’s True Lies (1994) backs its explosive muchness with a sense of humor that suggests it could have flown high had it merely been a comedy. Its premise, though, wouldn’t work quite so well without its assemblage of bang bangs and pow pows.