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True Lies

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4

Review by Dragan Antulov
3 stars out of 4

Among all the films made by James Cameron, TRUE LIES is the least appreciated (with the exception of PIRANHA 2). This could be explained with the fact that TRUE LIES seem rather atypical for Cameron and his opus. While almost all other Cameron's films might have a humorous bit of dialogue or two, they tend to be dead serious, whether they deal with time-travelling cyborgs, aliens or doomed ocean liners. So, when Cameron announced his choice of 1994 project - American remake of LA TOTALE!, rather obscure French 1991 farce - many people were surprised. This film, although laced with spectacular action and other director's trademarks, still looked like an excursion from Cameron's home waters. Naturally, the film, although commercially successful, was misunderstood by the critics who dismissed it as bad or, at best, unusual moment in otherwise unquestionable career.

The protagonist of the film is Harry Tasker (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger), agent in Omega Force, supersecret US government agency that deals with nuclear terrorists. After retrieving important information during a dangerous raid on Swiss chateau he returns to his house in Washington D.C. where he is greeted by his wife Helen (played by Jamie Lee Curtis), 14-year old daughter Dana (played by Elisa Dushku) and a dog. Tasker's family doesn't have a clue about his line of work and for the last fifteen years they are convinced that Harry works as dull sales representative for computer company. Harry managed to keep his professional and family life apart, but this is about to change very soon. Harry is on the trail of Salim Abu Aziz (played by Art Malik), leader of dangerous Mideastern terrorists who had acquired ex-Soviet nuclear warheads and who are about to use them in order to blackmail US government. This, however, becomes secondary problem to Harry, who is convinced that his long-neglected wife has an affair. Against the advice of his partner and best friend Gib (played by Tom Arnold) Harry decides to find identity of mysterious lover. His investigation brings him in touch with Simon (played by Bill Paxton), used car salesman who tells outrageous stories about his spy adventures in order to get lonely and adventure-seeking housewives to his bed. Humiliated Harry plots spectacular revenge on Simon and his wife, but his actions would have unforeseen consequences.

Most of the criticism directed towards TRUE LIES came from those people still unable to accept comedy made with 100 million US$ of budget. When they appraised the film, they appraised as straightforward action drama and, naturally, they were less than enthusiastic about action scenes that defy laws of gravity, common sense or, in some cases, even good taste. Cameron seemed to enjoy making those scenes as spectacular as possible, but his decision to go over the top (horse-motorcycle chase is one of such example) indicate that his aim was nothing but parody. And not only parody of Bond films (which receive homage in the opening scene), but also parodies of 1980s action movies, including some of those that turned Schwarzenegger into star (COMMANDO, PREDATOR) and, finally, Cameron didn't hesitate to make parody of himself. This new, unusual humorous setting seemed like a good thing for Schwarzenegger, whose role of Harry Tasker is his best comedic effort so far. His success is even bigger when we consider that he was partnered by Tom Arnold, one of top American comedians. Actually, almost everyone in this film seems comfortable in their roles. Jamie Lee Curtis has especially difficult task since she must play various personalities - modest housewife who turns into irrestisible seductress only to end up as strong, independent woman Cameron likes to have in his films. Failure to explain such transformation is probably the biggest problem of this film, and it wasn't Curtis' fault; she played her role very well. Villains, on the other hand, are more cartoons and less characters. This probably doesn't represent problem for Art Malik, whose Salim is deliberately played over the top, but Tia Carrere as evil seductress would be marked as pretty face and nothing more.

Another, more serious, charge against TRUE LIES came from those who found some of the contents socially unacceptable in this day and age. The most common accusation was misogyny. Two male protagonists stalk, kidnap and torture woman before they subject her to extremely cruel and humiliating practical joke. For many people, especially those who take 1990s "political correctness" seriously, comedy in TRUE LIES failed to justify presentation of such actions as an acceptable behaviour. Harry, of course, gets his comeuppance and in the last scenes of the film he is presented as equal to Helen, but that nevertheless failed to silence the critics. Another group that viewed TRUE LIES as controversial were Arabs; portrayal of Arab terrorists as dirty, unshaven and utterly stupid dark-skinned fanatics might have looked offensive and stereotypical on the verge of racism. Cameron again tried to pre-empt the criticism by creating the character of Harry's trusted and computer- literate Arab sidekick Faisal (played by Grant Heslov). This failed to produce desired effect and TRUE LIES is until this day cited as the most explicit example of Hollywood prejudices against Arabs and Muslims in general.

However, those viewers who don't care about political correctness would probably appreciate TRUE LIES as stylishly done piece of Hollywood entertainment. This combination of spectacular action and hilarious comedy actually represents one of the most entertaining films of 1990s. TRUE LIES is film that definitely doesn't deserve its bad reputation and almost inevitable slide into oblivion.

Copyright 2000 Dragan Antulov

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