|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 25 May 1999|
The main selling point of TRUE LIES is also its main weakness: Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is, as almost always, appealing, he packs star power, and he's believable doing the occasionally amazing stunts his role requires. But here he's playing a very (VERY) James Bond-like secret agent who also lives an ordinary suburban life with his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) and daughter. Arnold is, well, so very A*R*N*O*L*D that it's not easy to accept him in either role. A SECRET agent? A big, muscular Austrian in a tuxedo is anything but secret, and he lacks the sardonic, suave edge Bond actors -- or imitators -- must have. And he's equally implausible as the computer software salesman that's his cover story.
These stumbling blocks could have been turned into assets, but James Cameron, who directed and co-wrote the movie (with Stephanie Austin) tries to breeze ahead as if Schwarzenegger really were the all-American boy the role demanded. Furthermore, while he has few peers at staging action (and fortunately, there's a lot of action in TRUE LIES), Cameron is a klutz when it comes to comedy.
The movie is still a highly entertaining action-adventure piece; it stumbles at times, not in terms of plausibility -- it never tries to be any more plausible than your average action-adventure pice -- but, strangely for Cameron, in terms of pacing. There's a scene in which Schwarzenegger and his partner interrogate Curtis (from behind the traditional one-way window) that goes on much too long, and there are simply too many climaxes. Nonetheless, it's great fun to watch with a roomful of friends with the sound cranked up and nobody paying much attention to the plot.
The story is pretty simple, elementary even. It's a remake of the French movie LA TOTALE! (1991) on a much bigger scale, but it can't reproduce that most French of all comedy elements, irony. Super-secret agent Harry Trasker begins to suspect that his wife (Curtis) is having an affair with Bill Paxton, a used car salesman who picks up bored-looking women by passing himself off as a secret agent who needs their help. Curtis is pretty bored, as it happens, and ripe for Paxton's line of bull. (Paxton, who's amusing, seems to be doing an impression of Jack Nicholson at his sleaziest.)
Schwarzenegger and Arnold (the Andy Devine of action movies) scare the hell out of Paxton, and, in masks, insist that Curtis now help them. She reports to a hotel room and, on the orders of the shadowy man she doesn't realize is her husband, does a sexy dance (which is very sexy). Then Arab terrorists, with whom Schwarzenegger has already clashed, burst in and take them both prisoner. From that point on, the movie is more or less a steadily escalating series of spectacular fights, explosions, chases, air battles, etc.
Earlier, in chapters 11 and 12, the bizarre horseman-vs-motorcycle rider chase for which the movie is best known, takes place through a park, into a hotel, and up matching glass elevators, Schwarzenegger still on his horse, bad guy Art Malik still on his motorcycle. Even though bigger stuff happens later, this is probably the action highlight of the movie, mostly because it's fresh and comically inventive.
Starting with chapter 30 and running straight on to the end, Cameron orchestrates a kind of symphony of action. Schwarzenegger blasts his way out of captivity on a Florida island, while Malik's evil partner Tia Carrere grabs Curtis and roars northward over the long bridge that spans the Florida keys. Marines arrive in Harrier jets, there are more explosions, Schwarzenegger spectacularly rescues Curtis, and there are more explosions, including an atomic one.
Chugging right along, when Schwarzenegger hears his daughter has been captured by the terrorists, who've taken over a skyscraper under construction in Miami Beach, he steals a Harrier jet and literally roars off for the big climax -- which, actually, goes on rather too long, although it is stunningly well-staged.
TRUE LIES is rightfully regarded as the least of James Cameron's movies to date -- unless you count PIRANHA 2: FLYING KILLERS, which he'd rather you didn't -- even though it is often quite entertaining. Schwarzenegger has never been very good at comedy, nor has Cameron, and TRUE LIES is intended to be a comedy. The opening parodies a Bond opening (even swiping the wet-suit-over-a-dinner-jacket bit from GOLDFINGER), but nobody seems to have understood that it's damned near impossible to parody a Bond movie, since they're rarely intended to be taken very seriously themselves. Cameron seems to think that stuff like an automatic weapon tumbling down stairs while in full-fire mode, coincidentally hitting only bad guys, is boffo yocks, but it's not, especially in slow motion.
The action scenes are generally razor-sharp, beautifully staged and eye-popping, but the rest of the movie tends toward the elephantine. With a major exception: Jamie Lee Curtis. She was exactly the right person for the role, and is clearly having a grand time. But as charming as Arnold Schwarzenegger can be, he's no James Bond.
The extras on the disc are mostly the usual sort of thing, although the animation for the menu screens is amusing. A couple of cut scenes are included; as usual with such material, it's pretty clear why they were cut.