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True Lies
1994 - R - 144 Mins.
Director: James Cameron
Producer: James Cameron
Written By: James Cameron
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Bill Paxton, Eliza Dushku
Review by: John Ulmer

Maria's going to kill me--I just bought this thing yesterday!
(Note: I wrote this review a year ago, when I was first starting professional-style reviews, so I apologize for any mistakes and/or such errors herein.)

"True Lies" works on two conditions: You aren't expecting "The Terminator," and you aren't expecting "James Bond." Instead, think of "James Bond" meets "Terminator," and you've probably got the picture.

Harry (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a man going through turbulent times in his marriage, though he is not aware of this. He's too busy working with computer conferences. His wife, Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis), is bored with her husband, her house, her job, her life. She wants excitement. Danger. Mystery. Intrigue. And Harry's delivering none of this. So she strikes an affair with Simon (Bill Paxton), a secret agent working for the government. But here's where the irony lies: Simon isn't a secret agent. On the other hand, what Helen was looking for she had all along: Her husband, Harry, works for the FBI, CIA, or something in that vicinity. He's a spy, so to speak. His boring, dull, computer-expert persona is all a front for something more important. He and fellow spy Tom Arnold are the best of the best.

The beginning of the film opens with Harry cutting through ice, floating to the top, making his way to the shore of a rich manor, shredding off his diving suit (revealing a tux, much like the underwater sequence in "Goldfinger" where Connery comes out with a tux), and entering the manor, which is host to a party at that particular moment. Harry then makes his way to an upstairs bedroom where he uploads info on who's been selling what on the black market.

This does, of course, lead to some sort of plot with bad guys and explosions, but I didn't pay attention to that. (Well actually, I did, but to tell you the truth I can't remember a thing about the plot since I last saw the film.) The thing I do remember is that I was a bit disappointed, mainly because I had heard so many good things about this film. I mean, James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and James Bond spoofing material...what can go wrong?

Well, nothing really went wrong, but the film slows down in too many areas and tries to start a side-plot with Curtis and Schwarzenegger's marriage life, which is fine (because you have to wonder what Bond's life would be like if he was--or had stayed--married), but the film seems to divert courses just to examine this in overly-long sequences. It dabbles a bit too long in the side-plot and doesn't focus enough on what it set out to do, which is half-spoof Bond, half-spoof the Schwarzenegger/Cameron team.

Luckily this is all made up for with a terrific beginning and terrific ending. Schwarzenegger oozes with self-confidence in a not-too-ignorant kind of way, and, guess what, Tom Arnold is actually FUNNY in this movie. Yes, you read that right. Funny. Something he never seems to be, even when given the right material. In fact, Tom Arnold is so funny in this film, I found myself missing his sorry face when he wasn't on screen!

The movie is based on the French film "La Totale!", re-written by James Cameron, with the nifty addition of more explosions and gun fights and car chases. It's also quite tongue-in-cheek. Take, for instance, the opening scene: Harry smashes two dogs' faces together, knocking them out, then proceeds to run down a hill--being chased by guys with guns on snowmobiles--and jumps into a van, speeding away into the night.

The movie is doing two things here. First, it's spoofing the entire James Bond series. But, of course, Bond is essentially tongue-in-cheek anyway (at least the early films), and so Cameron also resorts to self-referential script tricks. Cameron starts to poke fun at Cameron. And, to be honest, it works extremely well. Arnold is a great action star and a great personified vehicle when it comes to comedy. Here he does what he's always been good at since his bodybuilding days: A serious statement with a wink to let the audience know he's in on the joke, too. Here, however, the statements are deluxe action sequences. The wink is still there, though.

"True Lies" was such an extraordinary hit when it was released in 1994 that there was even going to be a sequel made for a while--before the 9/11 disaster, and before Arnie became the Governator of California. Too bad. Here's a series that could've used a funny sequel--and, like James Bond, it is the type of series that would probably be able to sustain a number of entries before staying out its welcome.

Cameron has made better films before and after "True Lies" ("The Terminator" and "Titanic"), and so has Schwarzenegger ("The Terminator" and "Terminator 3"), but what Jim and Arnie set out to do comes across as a commendable effort, filled with lots of chuckles and extravagant action sequences. I just wish it hadn't achieved that extra weight dragging on its shoulders half-way through the film. Otherwise, this would have been a complete touchdown.
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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