Sunday, February 14, 2016


So I'm watching James Cameron's TRUE LIES (1994) the other day. First time I've seen it since it was released. I remembered some things about it, others I'd completely forgotten. But several things kept going through my mind while I'm watching it.

First, boy that Jamie Lee Curtis is hot. Really hot. Okay, just had to get that out of the way.

Two, Charlton Heston makes one helluva Nick Fury, better than Samuel L. Jackson in my mind (and I like Samuel L. Jackson as Fury). But in only two scenes, the grizzled, eye-patch wearing Heston perfectly plays the head of  Omega Section, a super-secret, high-tech United States spy agency. Which, come to think of it, is exactly what S.H.I.E.L.D. is. Plus, Heston is just the right age to have been a leader of a certain team of howling commandos during WWII. It's too bad he has such limited screen time. In fact, after two scenes, he completely disappears from the film but damned if he's not Nick Fury when he's on screen.

The third is that if some enterprising film producer or movie studio or maybe even James Cameron himself had wanted to make a Doc Savage film in the mid 1990s, the perfect casting choice was right in front of them in the form of the Austrian Oak himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was big. He was ripped. Makeup, lenses and a wig could have given him his signature bronze hued skin, gold flecked eyes and that distinctive widow's peak hairstyle. Something would have had to be done with the accent of course, but what totally sold me on Schwarzenegger as Doc was the way he wore a strategically torn shirt throughout the entire third act of the film. There are scenes where he looked like he just stepped out of James Bama cover painting on a Bantam DOC SAVAGE reprint paperback.

Of course, that movie never happened but it sure would have been fun to see it.

Anyway, back to TRUE LIES, an action-comedy-romance film written, produced and directed by James Cameron. Oh, and it was the first film to feature special effects by Digital Domain, Cameron's sfx company. Talk about auteur. Cameron did everything on this film except handle the craft services and for all I know, he stepped in and made baloney and cheese sandwiches for the cast and crew from time to time.

Thus, Cameron stansd alone to take full credit for the film's successes and full blame for the film's failures because it's big enough (a running time of over two and a half hours) to encompass both. The successes come early. An opening action set piece that's lifted straight out of a Connery Bond film (right down to Arnold ditching a wetsuit to reveal a white dinner jacket underneath). There's a ski/snowmobile chase and the score (by Brad Fiedel) has echoes of Bond movie music.

Before we can adequately catch our breath from this bravura opening, Cameron throws us into another action sequence, this one an extended chase sequence that is marvellously designed and executed. We're thirty minutes into the film and so far, so good.

Schwarzenegger is Harry Tasker, super spy for the Omega Section. His field partner is Albert Gibson (Tom Arnold). They're after a middle eastern terrorist organization named Crimson Jihad. One of their leads is uber sexy femme fatale Juno Skinner (Tia Carrere). But the conceit of this film is that Harry's wife, Helen (Curtis) doesn't know he's a spy. She thinks he's a computer salesman. And that's where the film takes a turn down the rabbit hole.

All of that action, suspense and narrative momentum that Cameron built up in the first act? It's put completely on hold for a long and flabby second act in which Helen is revealed to be having an affair with some one who may himself be a spy. Harry and Albert ditch their hunt for a group of terrorists armed with nuclear warheads to mind fuck poor Helen. They spend government time, money, men and resources to spy on Helen and her "lover" and when the truth is discovered, they subject Helen to a lengthy interrogation session. But wait, it gets worse.

Harry has Helen report to a hotel suite as an undercover operative forced to do the government's bidding. It's all a set up, an excuse for Harry to humiliate and tease his wife (mental abuse anyone?) before finally revealing himself as a spy. It's also an excuse to get Jamie Lee Curtis stripped down to her bra and panties while she dances seductively for the shadowed Harry. And while I'm all in favor of seeing Jamie Lee Curtis in her underwear any day of the week and twice on Sundays, the scene is demeaning, creepy and uncomfortable to watch. And it has nothing to do with that terrorist threat Harry is supposed to be investigating.

Cameron clumsily weaves the two plot threads together as Harry and Helen are abruptly taken prisoners by the terrorist and it's up to both of them to save the day. Which they due in an over-the-top third act set piece that involves a harrier jump jet wreaking havoc on a Miami office building, a special effects sequence that ends with a Schwarzenegger one liner: "you're fired."

TRUE LIES isn't a bad film. The action is well staged and the leads are all good. There's a tense, psychological thriller in the material, a story about a wife finding out the truth about her husband while both fight for their lives and their country. This isn't that movie. It's James Bond light, it's wink-wink, nudge-nudge, it's romantic comedy with lots of things blowing up real good. It's Schwarzenegger as Doc Savage, Charlton Heston as Nick Fury and Jamie Lee Curtis as her own hot self.

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