Benjamin has been reviewing films online since 2004 and has seen way more action movies than he should probably admit to!
What's the Big Deal?
True Lies is an action comedy thriller released in 1994 that was both written and directed by James Cameron. Based on the 1991 French spy comedy La Totale!, the film depicts a spy trying to defeat Islamic terrorists plotting an attack on US soil while trying to keep his spying profession a secret from his wife and family. The film stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Art Malik, Tia Carrere and Bill Paxton. The film was recently mentioned by star Eliza Dushku when she recalled a sexual assault by the film's stunt coordinator Joel Kramer, who denied the accusations. The film was one of the most successful films of the year, earning more than $378 million worldwide and winning most critics over with its blend of energetic action scenes and engaging comedy. However, the film also received criticism from some quarters due to its perceived misogynism and ill-treatment of Arabic and Muslim characters. Plans were in place for a sequel, but due to Schwarzenegger's political ambitions, Cameron moving onto to direct Titanic and the September 11th attacks, the likelihood of a sequel appears to have passed.
What's It About?
Harry Tasker leads a complicated double life: while his bookish wife Helen and daughter Dana believe Harry to be a computer salesman, Harry is actually a top secret agent within a counter-terrorism agency within the US Government called Omega Sector. Away on a supposed "business trip", Harry works alongside his colleagues Albert 'Gib' Gibson and IT technician Faisil to infiltrate an exclusive party in Switzerland on the trail of art dealer Juno Skinner. Learning that Juno is being paid by an Islamic terrorist organisation called the Crimson Jihad led by Salim Abu Aziz, Harry tracks her down to her gallery posing as a customer but his appearance causes the terrorists to attack him.
As a result, Harry misses a birthday party thrown for him by Helen and Dana. In an attempt to make things up to her, Harry visits Helen's office but learns that she is out meeting a man named Simon. Fearing that Helen may be having an affair, Harry uses Omega Sector to track this Simon character down but in his distracted state, Harry neglects to keep track of Crimson Jihad and soon he finds himself front-and-centre of their plans to detonate nuclear weapons on the US mainland...
What's to Like?
It's strange to think that a director of James Cameron's stature these days would have resorted to such a disposable piece of action cinema. Not that True Lies is disposable in a negative sense - this is an extremely well-made and entertaining action film - but the film kinda stands on its own, unsupported by unimaginative sequels and possibly overshadowed by one of the best all-action films of the decade, Speed. It's a pity that this film has been almost left behind because viewers will be taken on a hugely enjoyable ride. Cameron is an under-rated action director and delivers several sequences that simply have to been seen such as a thrilling pursuit atop a crane and an unforgettable car chase / shootout along the picturesque Seven Mile Bridge in Florida.
As unlikely a comedy actor as he is, Schwarzenegger is on top form as the muscle-bound super-spy struggling to balance his work and home life. I've never really rated any of his comedies (although I hear that Twins is well worth a watch) but he is legitimately funny in this film, displaying decent comic timing and banter with his co-stars. Curtis is also at the peak of her powers here - she has never looked better or been funnier than she is in this film, even topping her performance in A Fish Called Wanda. The supporting cast are also solid with Heslov, Paxton and Heston providing some dependable comic relief (Heston's 'Nick Fury'-type role is just perfect for him). The terrorist subplot feels a touch generic but in truth, it simply acts as a distraction from the comedy at the film's heart.
- Curtis performed the helicopter rescue stunt herself, shooting the scene on her 35th birthday - November 22nd, 1993. She was initially unsure about filming the scene but agreed to do it after Cameron insisted that he would be hanging out of the helicopter with her filming the scene himself.
- Arnold didn't expect to get cast in the film, only attending the audition to meet Schwarzenegger and Cameron. At the time, Arnold was going through a very-public divorce from Roseanne Barr and his reputation in Hollywood was so bad that the studio didn't want him on board. But Cameron stood up for him and even used Arnold's off-set anecdote about Barr taking the ice cube trays from their freezer in dialogue in the film.
- The film's infamous striptease scene drew some criticism from some who called the scene misogynistic. Cameron later stated that Curtis had a great deal of input into the scene, including her insistence to shoot it fully lit and wearing the actress' own lingerie instead of being fully nude. Curtis also suggested the slip during the scene which briefly caused Schwarzenegger to break character before sitting back down. Cameron also claimed that female viewers didn't complain as much as male viewers, with many calling the scene liberating or empowering.
What's Not to Like?
It's a shame that the film uses so many action movie clichés, almost to the point of parody. Malik's bad guy, who is both a Muslim AND British, feels miscast in the role - most of the terrorists come across as bumbling clowns but not him, not to mention that Malik is a far better actor than this role may suggest. In fact, much of the film feels almost like a parody of action films and if it wasn't for the earlier release of parody action film Last Action Hero, this may have felt more progressive than it does. Instead, it feels like a bone-headed throwback to the action movies of the Eighties - albeit, a film that recognises this fact. But just because it's dumb doesn't mean that it's not fun because it is fun.
The reason I say that True Lies stands out is because it looks odd compared to other films in Cameron's career. From the ground-breaking sci-fi action of Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgment Day to the sweeping romantic epic Titanic and the visionary Avatar, this film feels like the sort of project Cameron could direct blindfolded. The film has an odd lack of ambition to it and it isn't concerned with being anything other than a generic piece of action cinema. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that but Cameron's films usually have a sense of occasion or scope to them. This just feels... a little empty, I guess.
Should I Watch It?
It's not the most imaginative or original action film out there but True Lies is a thoroughly entertaining outing for a cast and crew on fire. Cameron's direction coupled with terrific lead performances from the cast creates a film of real quality and is probably one of the best action films on the Nineties, a decade not exactly short of competition in this area. It hasn't aged as well as others, though, and anyone expecting boundaries to be pushed is going to be disappointed.
Great For: action film fans, anyone looking for a silly and noisy comedy, Republicans
Not So Great For: Arab audiences, Islamic audiences, the easily offended
What Else Should I Watch?
The Nineties were a real boom period for action films looking to capitalise on the success of the likes of Die Hard and Predator. From Luc Besson's influential Nikita, Robert Rodriguez's electric breakthrough Desperado, the aforementioned Speed... Hell, even my least favourite action star Steven Seagal had his best outing ever with Under Siege! Fittingly, the decade would be seen in and out with two of the best examples ever made - 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a sublime blend of sci-fi story-telling, pioneering effects and remarkable action sequences that still hold up today. And 1999 saw the release of what I refer to as the first 21st century action film in the form of The Matrix, another sci-fi classic with Keanu Reeves dodging bullets and kung-fu kicking several pixels out of anyone in his way. Both of these are essential viewing, even if action films aren't your thing.
James Cameron is now one of the most revered directors in Hollywood although he hasn't directed a film since 2009's Avatar, a sweeping sci-fi epic that single-handedly revived 3D technology in cinemas for much of the next decade. With a sequel due in 2022 and a third film not much longer beyond that, it seems that this particular franchise will be occupying Cameron's time for a while. But Cameron doesn't just do violent sci-fi shooters - Titanic was the highest earning film in cinema history until the release of Avatar and its syrupy romance set on board the doomed ocean liner captured the hearts of audiences everywhere. It's also only the second film in history to earn more than $2 billion worldwide - not bad for the guy who started his directed career with the 'abject' Piranha II: The Spawning...
Jamie Lee Curtis
Albert 'Gib' Gibson
Salim Abu Aziz
Director Spencer Trilby
Release Date (UK)
12th August, 1994
Action, Comedy, Spy, Thriller
Academy Award Nominations
Best Visual Effects
© 2021 Benjamin Cox