Monday, December 17, 2012

Movie – True Lies (1994)

After his 1993 movie Last Action Hero did not do well with audiences (it was ahead of its time with its meta premise and self-referential humor – you can read my positive review of it here), Arnold Schwarzenegger came roaring back with True Lies, a good old fashioned, over the top action movie.  It was directed by his Terminator partner James Cameron.  Reportedly it was Schwarzenegger that got Cameron interested in the project.  The result was a very fun movie that provided people with a good combination of action and comedy.

Schwarzenegger stars as Harry Tasker, a secret agent for the U.S. government (think James Bond with muscles and an Austrian accent).  However, unlike Bond he is married to Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) and has a twelve year old daughter Dana (Eliza Dushku in an early role).  Neither of them have any clue what Harry does for a living.  They think he is a boring sales rep.

The movie opens with Harry in full secret agent mode.  He infiltrates a party in a well-guarded mansion in Europe.  He does this with the help of Albert “Gib” Gibson (Tom Arnold) and Faisil (Grant Heslov – now better know as George Clooney’s writing and producing partner on such films as The Ides of March and Good Night and Good Luck).  Gib and Faisil are in a van outside the grounds, monitoring the situation and providing an escape ride.  Harry shows the ability to speak several languages, incapacitate guards, flirt with a beautiful woman (Juno Skinner, played by Tia Carrere), improvise, and make one hell of an escape.

When he gets back to the U.S., his boss Spencer Trilby (Charlton Heston channeling the original Nick Fury) debriefs him and he can finally go home to his wife and daughter.  We get some good humor from small things like seeing this huge man walk the tiniest, least manly dog imaginable and from seeing his daughter stealing money from him – things any ordinary husband and father might have to deal with.

The next day he and his team are given a new assignment to track down some nuclear warheads that have been stolen.  As it turns out, Juno Skinner is helping a man smuggle them into the U.S. inside some art treasures.  This terrorist, Salim Abu Aziz (Art Malik, who played a good Mujahideen in the Bond film The Living Daylights), is going to use them to hold the U.S. government hostage until they meet his demands.

By the way, having an Arab as a terrorist bad guy was something Cameron knew might ruffle some feathers even in 1994 so that is why he deliberately had the Arab man Faisil as one of the good guys.  Apparently one Arab good guy does not balance off one Arab bad guy in the eyes of some.  The American Arab Anti-Defamation League protested the film for its “depiction of Middle Easterners as homicidal, religious zealots” and called for a ban on the release of the movie.

While all these things are going on with Harry, we find out that his wife Helen is kind of bored in her marriage and job.  She is looking for something, anything, exciting to come along.  That might just present itself in the person of “Simon” (Bill Paxton), a mysterious man who asks her to hide a briefcase for him because he is being followed.  She hangs on to it, but can’t resist the temptation and opens it.  Inside she finds a gun, maps, and plans for something.  Simon appears to be a spy.  This is exactly the kind of adventure she’s been looking for.  In reality, “Simon” is just a guy who uses this charade as a technique to pick up married women who are bored with their lives.  When Harry finds out about all of this he pulls his own charade by having Helen try to seduce a man as part of a mission.  Harry plays the man.  Unfortunately for Harry, both he and Helen are swept up in Aziz’s plan and get taken captive.

Now Helen is really having a secret agent adventure and it’s a lot scarier than she used to fantasize about.  There’s a lot of humor of her being caught in the middle of this, trying to help Harry, but at the same time not being any more skilled at it than you or I would be.

In true major bad guy style, Aziz has not only set up a warhead to detonate in the Florida Keys and has one ready to go in Miami, but he has also kidnapped Harry and Helen’s daughter Dana.  Now Harry has to simultaneously stop Miami from being destroyed and save Dana from being killed even if the bomb doesn’t go off.  There’s a great scene where Dana first sees her father as he really is.  Imagine you are a twelve year old girl and you have a boring sales rep for a father.  Now imagine you are running for your life from a bad guy and your father shows up to try to save you by flying a harrier jet to the rescue.  Dushku does a great job with her reaction.

It wasn’t just Schwarzenegger who did some of his own stunts; both Jamie Lee Curtis and Eliza Dushku did some, too.  That really is Curtis who is hanging out of a helicopter at one point, and Dushku hurt her ribs during the filming of the harrier sequence.  Afterwards, Arnold would say that the hardest scene for him wasn’t any of the stunts, but the tango dancing he had to pull off at a couple points in the film.

For years there were rumors of a sequel.  Cameron and Schwarzenegger just couldn’t get together on a story and a schedule.  And after 9/11 Cameron said that movies about terrorists weren’t funny anymore.  Despite this I have always wished they had brought everybody back.  Think about it.  In the intervening years Dushku became a bigger star in such shows as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Tru Calling, and Dollhouse, all while usually playing the “tough chick”.  A movie made in the 2000s would have had her in her twenties.  What if Harry and Helen found out that their daughter, now out on her own, was actually also a secret agent without them knowing about it?  In True Lies it’s shown that even though she is only twelve she has the guts to try to keep the bomb from going off.  Imagine how she’d be 10-15 years later.  Say she now gets in trouble and Harry and Helen have got to go on a mission to rescue her.  It gives people some of the fun storyline of the original, while also giving any number of fresh directions it could go in.  Oh well. 

If you like action and comedy at all, then you will probably like True Lies.  While the James Bond aspect of it will have lost a lot of its impact now, at the time this film came out it had been several years since anyone had last seen a James Bond movie and no one knew if there would ever be another one again.  Imagine a world where you have been waiting for an iconic character to come back and then the biggest action hero on the planet does his own funny take on that kind of role.  That was the appeal of True Lies for me and I highly recommend it.

Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars



  1. This is a surprisingly forgotten film, and certainly the thing that Tom Arnold can be most proud of looking back on his career. It's also evidence that Arnold can be funny with good material--he just needs to find good material.

    1. I completely agree on Tom Arnold. After this he got some starring roles in not-that-good movies and Schwarzenegger gave him some career advice that he might not have wanted to hear - that he was a great supporting actor, especially with the humor, but that he wasn't built to be the lead. He suggested Tom go back to doing supporting roles in better films.

  2. Correction, Art Malik plays one of the good guys in The Living Daylights who helps James Bond.

    I liked this movie. It's a whole lot of fun.

    1. Thanks for the catch. I remembered that he was a Mujahideen, but forgot that at the time the film was made they were still the "good guys" because they had been fighting the Soviets. I've edited this post to correct that.

  3. I love this movie. It's also the most recent James Cameron movie I've seen and will ever see.

    1. So no Titanic or Avatar for you then. What if he gets back together with Arnold to do a sequel to True Lies?

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