True Lies is an oddity. It’s recognised as perhaps old Arnold’s biggest action spectacle in the non-sci-fi world. It was his last film with James Cameron, and it made a bit of a storm at the box office when it was released. The green screen had come along and replaced the blue, Jamie Lee Curtis was hot all over again, and Tom Arnold went right to the top of everyone’s annoying sidekick list.
The trouble, though, is that True Lies barely gets mentioned when people talk about Schwarzenegger these days. It’s his political career; the films that crashed and burned, the Terminator franchise or his 80s films that people seem to talk about nowadays. True Lies seems to have been forgotten about. Hello, it didn’t even occur to me to put it on the original list of his films for us to cover it, hence this BONUS review!
It’s a shame really, as the film is still very entertaining. And yet its consignment to the dustbin of history is also a good thing because the film is terribly over the top in every possible sense. Cameron was clearly paying tribute to the Bond franchise (and thank Christ he didn’t do one himself). Big Arnold stripping out of his wet suit at the start to reveal his dinner suit underneath is pure Goldfinger.
Basically, Harry Tasker is a spy and his family has no idea. We get to see the man in action in a fairly impressive, but barely entertaining, opening set piece. Then he returns home to the unsuspecting family. The wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) is half alive, at best, doing the mum routine and the daughter is just a brat. Harry coasts along, relying on his partner to do everything for him.
But it is back to work for his boss (an eye-patched Charlton Heston) until a few wake up calls alert him to the trouble his mundane marriage could be in. Yes, Helen has had an encounter with a stranger who could well be a spy (Bill Paxton). Once Harry catches wind of this the comedy starts as he gets the entire force tailing his wife as she heads towards a rather seedy encounter with the guy (who of course turns out to be a phony. If the film was a bit more serious they may have decided to flip that decision and actually have Paxton turn out to be a threat).
But he is a phony, and we get to enjoy Arnold making his wife jump through hoops, making Paxton wet his pants and then eventually setting his wife up on a mission that will lead her to him, and eventually The Truth (which culminates in a sexy and yet hilarious dance from Curtis).
The real threat comes from the leader of Crimson Jihad (Art Malik), who gets to run around in combats looking scary as he eyeballs people, threatens his underlings and slaps the hired help. He’s not a very notable villain other than the fact that he is Arab, which fits in with the times. Other non-notables include Tom Arnold’s annoying sidekick, and also the annoying sidekick of Tom Arnold (Grant Heslov – who would go on to film glory with George Clooney working as writing and producing partner. Before being annoying in True Lies, he was an annoying sidekick who got beaten to death by a monkey in Congo).
Jamie Lee Curtis is in the more difficult role as she has to work through an arc of workaday mum to woman in need of a bit of excitement. Her path is the more interesting one that balances the comedy nicely. True, at times it would be nice to go off for a bit more action. Arnold gets to knock a few heads in a toilet at one point and then try to launch a horse off a rooftop, but largely the mid-section is all about the central relationship falling apart, Helen’s attempts at infidelity and then the couple coming together again.
The final third of the film is where you get payback for all of your time spent awaiting the action. It’s one big long thread where husband and wife escape, cause mayhem, escape again and then go after their child. Arnold gets to stamp-flip guns off the ground so that they land in his arms in firing position, take out assorted enemies with a giant makeshift flame thrower and generally blow the shit out of the bad guys’ compound as his wife gets to “hilariously” take out a bunch of bad guys when she drops an Uzi by accident. *Chortle chortle dries eyes.*
Then the extended bridge sequence takes over where a few more sub-villains get their due, either in a cool way or a dumb way (yes, the bird landing on the bad guy’s truck scene). Then they’re off to rescue their annoying kid (who’s destined to become Buffy’s daughter), and send the bad guy off with a double entendre one liner that actually makes no sense. Still, one has to think fast in times of high pressure I guess.
There was a mooted franchise at one point that only seemed to die down when the Bourne movies punched their way into cinemas. By that standard True Lies would look very dated among today’s spy franchises. Even Bond had to go back and reboot.
So what happened to the sequel? I think Cameron got a little busy with that ship movie, and then got a little carried away progressing the development of technology before going all blue on us. In other words he hasn’t acted as a proper director or writer since the 80s. That same era that brought us Arnie’s most memorable work, while everything he did after it has been utterly forgettable.