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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 34.69%
Average: 8.16%
Pretty Bad: 12.24%
Total Crap: 4.08%

2 reviews, 86 user ratings

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True Lies
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Bombastic gigantism, but Cameron does it better than anyone."
4 stars

The best visual effect in the budget-busting 'True Lies' is its star. As Harry Tasker, a spy for a government counter-terrorism agency, Arnold Schwarzenegger strides uninvited into a posh party as though he owned the place: slipping flawlessly into various languages, doing a quick tango with a mysterious woman, glad-handing foreign dignitaries as if they were old friends.

I didn't fully understand why he was there, except to set off an explosion and be chased by dozens of terrorists on skis, but then who ever understood the plot of any James Bond movie? The audience settles in for a loud, only slightly comprehensible, but rousing adventure -- a spectacle as comfortably familiar as the Indiana Jones series. Harry, no doubt, will save the world and look sensational doing it; the man's self-confidence is awesome.

True Lies, however, has some twists in store. Director James Cameron, who based his script on the French comedy La Totale, gives Harry a wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) and daughter (Eliza Dushku), neither of whom knows what he does for a living; they think he's a computer salesman. (The thought of that is itself a good joke.) They will soon find out differently, but not before Harry gets a shock of his own: He overhears a conversation and concludes that his wife, Helen, is having an affair with a car salesman named Simon (Bill Paxton). Whether she actually is or not isn't the point; the point is how amusing Arnold Schwarzenegger is when he's a wreck. The self-confidence vanishes; Harry stumbles to the street in a daze of incomprehension. Behold the suave superspy, whose wife is boffing some cheesy car salesman! Harry looks utterly deflated; his aura of sudden, emasculating insecurity is one of the movie's slyest jokes.

Not that James Cameron has morphed Arnie into Woody Allen. True Lies offers the usual Cameron mix of genuine thought and kick-ass, rock-and-roll action. I've said it before, and I'll go on saying it unless he flips out and does an Edith Wharton adaptation: Nobody does action like James Cameron. (Nobody has gotten better performances from Arnie, either.) He may spend more than anyone -- True Lies reportedly came in at $100 million plus -- but no one delivers more bang for the buck. Cameron's action sequences are huge objects of beauty, usually with a detail that makes you gasp and laugh at the same time. In one of many highlights, an Uzi is dropped down some stairs; it goes off, thumping along, and manages to take out a slew of terrorists before it hits bottom and clicks empty. Who else would think of that, or pull it off so deftly? Cameron is smitten with the magic of excess, and in True Lies he indulges himself almost nonstop.

Still, Cameron has never resisted spoofing his own hardcore hardware. He'd be uncomfortable, I think, shepherding a solemnly patriotic Tom Clancy thriller. True Lies gets into the drawbacks of spy life; it's hard, dangerous work, and murder on a relationship. (Cameron might well say the same of making movies.) He pays scant attention to the official plot motor, realizing we've seen it before -- Arab terrorists threaten to blow up Miami. (Yes, but do they sing?) Cameron also gives a cameo to Charlton Heston, who performs in his usual stentorian, hyper-macho mode, blissfully unaware that in his eyepatch and fake scar he comes off as a rabid goofball. (He's playing some agency bigwig who briefs Harry and his partners.) Heston, that grand American eagle, isn't used here as a mythic figure to confer greatness on the movie, as he was in last year's Tombstone -- Cameron makes him seem hawkishly inhuman, as if Heston had just dropped by on his way to the War Room in Dr. Strangelove. The movie shows no particular respect for government institutions that preserve national security by being snoops.

Honesty is the watchword, despite the film's title. True Lies, it turns out, is less about explosions and stunts than about a marriage that has sagged into vague boredom and low communication. When Harry assumes that Helen is cheating on him, his jovial partner (Tom Arnold in a fine comic performance) levels with him: "What did you expect? She's a flesh-and-blood woman, and you're never there." The vigorous surveillance Harry subjects Helen to is wildly unnecessary, and it has offended some viewers. For me, though, it works nicely as a metaphor for the lengths America will go in order to feel secure in its marriages to other nations. If you feel for poor, spied-on Helen, try transferring your indignation to our intrusive foreign policies. Aside from that, the non-infidelity subplot allows for a ripe sleazeball turn by Bill Paxton, whose Simon is a twerp posing as a spy to get gullible ladies between his sheets. A car salesman pretending to be a spy, versus a spy pretending to be a computer salesman -- fighting for the affections of Helen, who has no idea what either man really is. There's no way True Lies, in which Helen is the least deceptive person on the screen, can be simply written off as misogynist.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is so polished and physically perfect that he needs leading ladies who take him for granted. When Helen awakes to see Harry in bed with her, she doesn't register that she's in the sack with the great beefcake of all time; he's just her loving but boring husband, home late from a sales meeting. It's a crime that Jamie Lee Curtis isn't in more movies, but few screenwriters can create women sharp enough for her to play. Helen could have struck us as a ditz, falling for Harry's lies and then Simon's, but Curtis makes us see Helen's confusing mixture of respect for the reassuring family life and lust for something new and exciting. For roughly the film's last hour, she gets both. For reasons too ornate to explain here, Helen finds herself posing as a hooker and doing a sultry dance for a customer (who turns out to be Harry). The way this fundamentally inhibited woman gets over her initial embarrassment and gives in to the motion is superb. From the start of her career (shrieking and stabbing her way through Halloween), Curtis has specialized in repressed women who let the armor of ladylike demeanor fall with a resounding, gratifying clang. Harry's eyes become baffled poached eggs as he witnesses his wife's awakening; the sequence is hilarious.

The heart of True Lies is this relationship, so I wonder why Cameron had to make the thriller aspects of the plot timely and "significant" (the terrorists are avenging what we did in the Gulf), especially since it makes no sense. The terrorists show up every so often to scream and gesticulate; for their other trick, they blow things up. They're almost no more than distractions blocking Harry and Helen's reconciliation, and the climax -- featuring a blown-out bridge, a nuclear warhead, and a Harrier jet -- is massively exciting but empty; the punishing noise of the movie drowns out the dozens of logical questions (why is Harry's daughter left alone with the key?, etc.). The final outcome isn't logical either, but we buy into it because Cameron has built up to it.

'True Lies' puts a neat spin on marital stability: The family that spies together stays together.

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originally posted: 12/30/06 15:35:38
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User Comments

3/30/16 Aj wales Cut 30 minutes of all the nonsense and would have been a classic. 4 stars
1/22/15 Tim This movie is better as a comedy than as an overblown actioner. Really funny, but absurd. 3 stars
12/22/11 Isaac This is a classic Schwarzenegger film; fun, bombastic and totally implausible. 5 stars
11/13/09 RealityOfFilms This is the best film ever! It is very funny and has a lot of action! 5 stars
8/10/09 Jeff Wilder Whaddya know? An action movie that actually ENTERTAINS and assumes one can think. 4 stars
6/11/09 gramma great fun movie 4 stars
6/02/09 Matt one of the best action comedies. Jamie Lee Curtis steals it 5 stars
1/27/09 Shaun Wallner Intense Action! 5 stars
10/16/07 R.W. Welch Has a nice light touch and good stunt work. B+ 4 stars
3/20/07 action movie fan good action scenes but sloppy and dull story 3 stars
2/17/07 Vip Ebriega Solid Arnold Schwarzenegger movie with Arny doin' his best roles. 4 stars
10/02/06 Beau very well thought out, one of the best all time favourite action movies. 5 stars
3/08/06 ALDO One of the last good action movies. 5 stars
1/04/06 cody This movie had aciton and decent story, and yes arnold, jamie lee gives sexy strip dance 3 stars
11/08/05 cooler Total rubbish.Crappy plot and mediocre cartoonish action sequences.I laughed at the end 1 stars
9/02/05 ES Amazingly action packed, hilarious and fun. Cameron knows how to make good films 5 stars
5/27/05 tony great movie! Action movie lovers watch out because this is better than sex! 5 stars
5/22/05 JN Entertaining throughout, albeit some scenes pushing the limit of credibility 5 stars
5/15/05 Indrid Cold Several dull stretches, but still a thrilling, juicy movie. 4 stars
5/13/05 Jennifer Regan The men just love this movie - it's good! 4 stars
3/23/05 clinger26 best arnold movie since the Terminator movies 5 stars
2/07/05 Jeff Anderson Forget TITANIC, this is James Cameron's most awesome film! Tom Arnold is GREAT IN THIS!!!!! 5 stars
1/28/05 Jack Scallops Best. Action. Film. Ever 5 stars
12/09/04 Kristina Williams Arnold's best besides T2 5 stars
11/01/04 Dan w00t! GREAT W00t!!!!!!!!! W)(TW(@#%@!!!!!111 5 stars
6/27/04 Christy A favorite! Tom Arnold and Bill Paxton steal the show! Arnold who? 5 stars
2/21/04 Stefan Halka Bill Paxton was brilliant as the pretending spy who is deep down a wussy. 4 stars
2/14/04 Robert A VERY good movie - Chris Parry must be a moron or a Muslim not to like it. 5 stars
12/30/03 Kevin Plant Worth it for Jamie's strip scene ! 4 stars
12/05/03 john uninvolving - some expensive action sequences - 2 stars
10/09/03 Buck Hilarious, exciting, maybe Arnold's best movie 5 stars
5/22/03 mr. Pink I inexplicably love this movie! Even the usually awful Tom Arnold is funny. 5 stars
12/07/02 BAM GREAT 5 stars
11/17/02 cinkcool good 5 stars
10/27/02 Matt Neopalitano The opening sequence rocked. 5 stars
10/11/02 y0rt good 5 stars
8/19/02 Nevz This was fun, go on, be a kid for a few hours! 4 stars
7/29/02 Captain Midol Very tongue-in-cheek. Very over the top. It laughs at itself, so go with it! 4 stars
7/12/02 KMG Jamie Lee makes this movie watchable...and I'm a chick! 4 stars
5/31/02 Justin Arnie's best film! 5 stars
5/26/02 I'm in (L) with a Jedi Ur fired! 3 stars
5/22/02 Iris Dementia Praecox Arnold Schwarzenegger's best film. Suspenseful & smart. "You're fired!" best line. 5 stars
4/13/02 Movie Expert The worst James Cameron movie ever but it is still not much of criticism 5 stars
3/29/02 Evan The Critic DEFINATLY not one of Arnolds best, in fact one of the worst... go see Last Action Hero..... 2 stars
3/03/02 Butterbean Arnold's last good movie 4 stars
2/27/02 Shrike Brainless but fun Arnie action 4 stars
1/05/02 Andrew Carden Nothing To Brag About, Except For It's Dullness. 2 stars
11/18/01 Bront epic action flick 5 stars
10/07/01 jawsboy awesome movie. acting, action etc. = real good. though,shitty stunt double work & some fx 4 stars
8/09/01 E-Funk Great Arnold film after his Last Action Hero flop. Cameron is to thank. 5 stars
2/12/01 Jake The review from (((OZ))) pretty much sums it up for me. What a packaged piece of crap. 1 stars
1/01/01 Msitrab One of Arnold's best 5 stars
12/28/00 Turtle Funny and action-packed, but a bit lengthy. 4 stars
12/24/00 bub What about Tom Arnold, he was fucking hilarious!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
11/02/00 The dude this was arnolds best movie ever man 5 stars
10/24/00 Gremlin Best Arnold movie. Very cool movie. 5 stars
7/14/00 Japtalian Cat fight in the limo is worth the rental 4 stars
7/04/00 Stephen Anderson Not as good as the Terminator movies but still a brilliant movie 4 stars
6/24/00 Naushad Khanji Boring film with lacklustre action sequences 2 stars
6/07/00 JC Awesome action, one of arnold's best 5 stars
5/01/00 Steve Layne Even though it gets kind of cartoonish toward the end its still very entertaining. 4 stars
3/11/00 Richard Wright Thrilling action and hilarious situations abound in Arnie's best role to date. 4 stars
1/24/00 Casey Jarzabek OVERRATED 2 stars
1/17/00 Dirk Diggler i liked it alot 5 stars
1/12/00 moviefreak an amazing action film 5 stars
1/12/00 mickey a very good movie 5 stars
1/12/00 dr.d WOW! 5 stars
1/11/00 dr.d thrilling 5 stars
10/21/99 Tony Daquano Pretty Decent 4 stars
10/11/99 Annie It was so cool! Eliza Dushku is a wonderful actress and she didn't get enough screentime 5 stars
10/09/99 sophia962 I get pissed when I think how much he was paid for this but Jamie was worth it. 4 stars
5/27/99 GothamDK Over the top, but Arnold is at his best over the top! 4 stars
5/14/99 Jaddax bit long but very good one liners from Tom arnold 4 stars
2/20/99 Piz Great supporting charectors and a nice mix of story, smart and funny. 4 stars
2/07/99 Vick Di Brecci After the two Cameron/Shwartzenegger teamup for the two Terms,I was wholly let down by this 2 stars
1/09/99 Jo Mama this was a fuckin cartoon! loud and lacking in substance 3 stars
12/28/98 Lucy B. I'm not a big action flick fan but this movie delivers!Saw it with Speed & much prefered it 5 stars
11/27/98 BBReBozo I thought it was idiotic, except for Jamie Lee strippin' off her clothes. 1 stars
10/28/98 Silent Rob Bang Bang, Boom Boom..It's Arnie time! Cameronisms save it, somewhat. 4 stars
9/25/98 Des Bromilow It is great ENTERTAINMENT. 5 stars
9/25/98 ShadowStar Chop out the stuff about the affair and you have a pretty decent flick. 3 stars
9/05/98 Badass A fun movie. 4 stars
9/01/98 MikeF this was stupid. but I liked it a little. 3 stars
8/30/98 Mister Whoopee "Suspension of disbelief" meter exploded in a frenzy of moronic shit. Awful in every way. 1 stars
8/29/98 Johny Good, if overlong, fun 4 stars
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  15-Jul-1994 (R)



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