(Once again, I’m catching up for yesterday thanks to schoolwork. Yesterday’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a response to a Sylvia Plath poem, but since I don’t understand or like Plath’s work much, I went with a nice simple limerick.)
There once was a debonair spy
Who told all his loved ones a lie.
Was beneath camouflage,
But don’t ask him why or you die.
MPAA rating: R (for language, sex, and violence; you know, the usual)
What if the Terminator played an American James Bond and had a family? I always thought that might have been how James Cameron pitched True Lies, until I found out it was actually a remake of a French film called La Totale! with basically the same plot. I might see that one someday just for comparison’s sake, but remake or not, True Lies is a funny actioner that fits nicely in Schwarzenegger’s and Cameron’s filmographies.
Schwarzenegger plays Harry Tasker, a deadly and debonair secret agent, with “secret” carrying over into his personal life, since he keeps his counter-terrorism gig hidden from his wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) and daughter Dana (Eliza Dushku, who recently revealed a sad account of sexual harassment during filming). Harry’s family thinks he’s just a mild-mannered bore, but he tends to spend his nights sneaking into high-security Russian parties and beating the crap out of bad guys in hotel bathrooms. Then one day he discovers evidence that his wife may be cheating with a wussy con man (Bill Paxton), and Harry’s jealousy threatens more than just his secrets.
True Lies is at its best as a popcorn action movie, especially a few bravura chase sequences, like Harry chasing a motorcycle baddie up a building while on horseback. The entire climax stretching from the Florida Keys to a skyscraper crane also ranks among the most thrilling finales out there, complete with a great cheesy one-liner that Donald Trump may have borrowed. Schwarzenegger and Curtis are in fine form, the one uber-capable, the other mousy and frantic when things spiral out of control; and they both benefit from strong support, whether comedic (Paxton and Tom Arnold) or villainous (Tia Carrere, Art Malik).
Unfortunately, it’s not all fun and explosions. The lies Harry tells go beyond just keeping his career secret, and his actions while he suspects his wife of cheating are morally suspect, never minding the fact that he had been dancing the tango with another woman earlier in the film with not a second thought. When he recruits his wife into a fake mission to give her a thrill, it becomes a somewhat funny but mostly distasteful charade that he should have thought better of beforehand.
That unsavory deception is the main thing that keeps True Lies from rising to the level of other action classics like Die Hard. It has everything you could want in the action department, but the familial reconciliation is only half-successful, considering the loss of trust. If you can put that aspect out of your mind, though, True Lies is a reminder of how entertaining ‘90s actioners could be.
Best line: (Gib, Harry’s partner) “Women. Can’t live with ‘em. Can’t kill ‘em!”
Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2018 S.G. Liput
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