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Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Retro Review: True Lies (1994) #Schwarzenegger

True Lies
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Art Malik, Tia Carrere, Bill Paxton, Eliza Dushku, Charlton Heston
Genre: Spy Action Comedy
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $370 million

Plot: A top spy in the ultra-secret Omega Sector who dances a mean tango, to his neglected wife, Helen, Harry Tasker is just an ordinary computer salesman in her eyes. But whilst Harry's been fighting terrorists, Helen's been gathering secrets of her own. When their secret lives unexpectedly collide, both Helen and Harry find themselves in the clutches of international terrorists.

'James Bond -Style Flick With Added Muscle'

Any film where Arnold Schwarzenegger sends himself up in light-hearted shenanigans tends to turn up the noses of critics and fans of predominantly action movies, be it Junior, Kindergarten Cop, Jingle All The Way, Twins. Yet in True Lies, what we have here is your typically Arnie-like action fest that doubles up as a 007 James Bond spy parody. Harry Tasker is the American equivalent to James Bond of Britain, whose international branch of spies focus on counter-terrorism. 

Harry's wife Helen, meanwhile, is completely oblivious to what is going on and turns to Simon, a con man posing as a fellow agent and used car salesman as she tries to get in on the act. Later on, along with Harry, she finds herself embroiled in a terrorist scheme involving a group called Crimson Jihad, led by mastermind Aziz, who intends to threaten the U.S by firing nuclear warheads that he has acquired. 

A remake of the French film La Totale!, this is a film not many of us tend to associate James Cameron with, as he specialises more in futuristic sci-fi action fare through Aliens, The Terminator & Terminator 2

True Lies sees Schwarzenegger collaborating once again with James Cameron, after 1991's smash hit, Terminator 2 Judgement Day and together, this pairing opted for a more light-hearted, less serious tone for this offering. As far as other films of this type go, there is nothing else quite like it - and that in itself is what makes it revered by many. 

It has a very contemporary feel to it; in the sense that it was a precursor to 21st-century war on terrorism and pre - 9/11. If you read it from a much wider context, one could see to it in Harry the family man exerting and asserting his role as the main head of the family. It looks extravagant, bold & brash. 

The violence is not too excessively violent or as bloody, as on the same lines as say Total Recall and Commando, but it's still strong and there is a slight humourous tone evoked through it. Such as in one scene when Helen drops an Uzi machine gun by accident and as it goes down a flight of stairs, it ends up killing all the bad guys. 

What makes this film stand out from all the other action movies, but besides say, Jackie Chan's Police Story where the action level is pretty much even, is the over-the-top action sequences and stunts that surpass each and every one as the film develops further on. But also, it has that fun element from a fantasy-like context; as silly as some of it looks, they are also highly entertaining and remain watchable as well. James Cameron goes all out and much like with Terminator 2 and Titanic, he is the type of director who, when it comes to spectacular action sequences and the visuals when you expect him to give the audience the thrills, the highs, as well as the spills, Cameron never disappoints. Visually, the film is a treat without all the computer effects, but for the tech scenes, it's as though he has taken notes from the James Bond movies. 

Yet even more intriguing is that this is a rare example of how to take the romantic comedy sub-genre formula and fuse it together with action; you have Helen and Harry, you have a subplot where their relationship is not going so well at the moment. Harry is out saving the world, trying to keep it a secret and because of his job, he doesn't spend enough quality time with his wife and daughter. His absence has a direct effect on their relationship, both as a family and with Helen. Helen feels something is missing from her life and she doesn't feel loved, nor inspired, so much so she feels neglected; that & she is trying to figure out what it is and how to get it. She even puts on one of the most memorable cinematic stripteases known in history for her husband. You have the love interest who turns out to be a femme fatale, and then through working together and defeating the bad guys, not only do Harry and Helen win, but their love for one another also wins out in the end as well. Likewise, True Lies doubles up as an interesting take on the rom-com. They make for one strong central male/female pairing and with Jamie Lee Curtis, out of all the onscreen female actresses that have partnered up with and played alongside Arnie, for me, she had the strongest connection and their bond together as Helen and Harry when it comes together, is just magic. 

The comedy aspect is well-written and when one thinks about it, given it is an action comedy, this could've been an ideal vehicle for say, someone like Eddie Murphy who is not only funny but through Beverly Hills Cop, he has also proven how convincing he can be, as an action star. But this is an Arnie flick and he has a gift of the gab to go with it. 

My concerns with this film were the character of Glib portrayed by Tom Arnold, who refers to women as b*****s and the sketchy portrayal of the female characters. I didn't like the daughter Dana, played by Eliza Dushku very much and thought she was the typically whiny teen. And it can also be argued that the terrorists come off as being too cartoonish and superficial. Also, the last act of Harry rescuing his daughter, I thought that scene was just dragged out a little too long than it should have. I liked the performances from everyone; Bill Paxton as the jerkass car dealer is both irritating and funny to boot, Tom Arnold was just about bearable, yet I don't like Glib much and usually I don't care for Tom in general, but for Eliza Dushku and Tia Carrere's portrayal as the bad girl to Jamie Lee Curtis's good girl, was average. She didn't really sell it to me as the villain, as a) her sole reason for helping the terrorists is money, - and that, in my view that is, just isn't a feasible enough of an excuse for her to become a villain and b) she wasn't 'evil' enough. I preferred her in the Wayne's World films. Arguably of all the characters, it is Helen who winds up showing off more of her human side; especially given as she is the one who becomes embroiled in this mess, and it is not done intentionally. As for Arnie, whilst he can kick a lot of ass, very often he has been accused of being a stoic and wooden actor, who doesn't show an array of emotions or range in his other performances. But as Harry, not since say Total Recall perhaps, we see his acting ability go up one or two notches and he does very well. 

But hey, in all goodies versus baddies action movies, you need sets of characters that viewers can easily identify and make out and distinguish, even if they are somewhat predictable. True Lies didn't need complex or deep characters for us to get to know them, -and thankfully that didn't happen. And the rest of the film is still excellent and a highly entertaining romp that one would come to expect from an Arnie film. 

Whilst it could be said this is not completely out and out perfect, ultimately, I, especially, could concur & say True Lies is the complete package, insofar as content goes in action movies: some credible performances, it's fun, jam-packed with some memorable scenes, great special effects and as an action movie, it remains one of the absolute best indicators of the genre. It still has a lot in the tank throughout those 2 hrs to keep me peeled all the way through to the very end.

That, and it ranks as my second favourite Arnie movie, right behind Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Final Verdict:

True Lies is 007 James Bond, only more quirky, outrageous, over-the-top in the action stakes. & plenty of muscle with less fat. 

Does it still hold up over a decade later? Absolutely. And despite what some may call is the misogynistic portrayal of the female characters - the sex bomb wife, the wacko psycho femme fatale and the annoying child character - the rest of the film is terrific and highly entertaining from start to finish. 

I think this film works better as an action film in general, although the comedy elements - but for some of the sexist jokes and lines that come off as being misogynistic -, are somewhat strong as well and help compliment it. When and where in certain areas it gets things right, it succeeds 110% and on that note, the film and James Cameron's efforts duly paid off. 

But it is through the onscreen coupling of Jamie Lee Curtis and Arnold Schwarzenegger & some spectacular action scenes that True Lies truly excels and literally comes out on top. 


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