Retro Review | True Lies (1994)

Retro Review | True Lies (1994)

A top American spy must stop a nuclear terrorist threat to the United States. Just another day at work for Harry Tasker. Unfortunately his wife is about to find out about his double life and that he’s been lying to her for fifteen years.

True Lies is a film I remembered fondly as one of James Cameron’s lesser celebrated films. It was by no means a failure earning over $300 million in the summer of 1994, but I watched it again recently to see if my rose tinted glasses had were still okay or if after all this time some cracks had started to appear.

James Cameron is one of the great sci-fi genre directors of the last twenty years who isn’t afraid to push his cast and crew to the limits to achieve his vision. This has ranged from grueling long hours shooting under water for his 1989 film ‘The Abyss’ to more recent film such as 2009’s ‘Avatar’ in which Cameron spent years waiting and developing computer software until it was finally ready to create what he needed.

Whilst he has provided some of the great science fiction films in recent decades with iconic classics such as the first two Terminator films and Aliens, he took on an action comedy in 1994 with the release of ‘True Lies’

In the film secret agent Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is going about his daily basis trying to stop terrorists from attacking the United States. But at the end of the day he still has to go home to his wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis), his daughter Dana (Eliza Dushku) and pretend to them that he is a successful computer salesman.

Whilst following up on a new terrorist lead, Harry tries to apprehend a man known as the Sand Spider, real name Salim Abu Aziz (Art Malik). In doing this Harry misses his own birthday party and so tries to make it up to his wife by surprising her with a lunch visit at work the next day. Unfortunately he discovers that his wife is apparently having an affair.

I won’t spoil anymore for those who have yet to see it except to say that Helen’s secret man is played by James Cameron regular, Bill Paxton who brilliantly portrays Simon, a used car salesman.

It’s a fairly common piece of trivia that a sequel to ‘True Lies’ never got off the ground despite a script being written because after the events of 9/11 James Cameron rightly said, “Terrorists aren’t funny anymore.” In truth, since 9/11 and the various other atrocities that have occurred around the world, the original True Lies to me feels rather strange as well.

True Lies is James Cameron’s only foray into comedy and after watching this film I can see why. Don’t get me wrong, I used to love this film as young man as I owned the widescreen VHS release and imported the Australian DVD into the UK as the film is edited for violence here.

But the comedy feels a bit out of place at times sitting in between some excellent action set pieces. Case in point, Harry dispatches terrorist bad guys left, right and center and then his wife, Helen, accidentally drops an Uzi machine gun which keeps firing as it cartwheels its way down a set of stairs, dispatching the last few bad guys as it does.

With this recent viewing, the pacing of the film felt wrong as well. True Lies begins with a strong action set piece setting up the terrorist story and then it soon switches to the affair section of the plot.

The film seems to almost outstay its welcome with this plot thread before the nuclear terrorist threat comes crashing back at the end and the two story lines combine for the infamous ending featuring excellent 1990’s special effects work involving a shootout with a harrier jump jet. I also forget how long the film is running at a lengthy two hours and twenty minutes, this may be why the middle section started to drag a little for me.

Perhaps I’m looking too hard at this film and trying to extract the action film that lies within whilst turning a blind eye to the comedy.

There’s definitely cracks in my rose tinted glasses.

P.S. This time around I kept noticing how often the stunts weren’t performed by Schwarzenegger! The stunt doubles are so obvious its painful!


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John Abbitt

About the author | John Abbitt

@UKFilmNerd | John loves the movies and he used to write for his own website, The Tydirium Hangar Bay, in the late 1990's. Whilst the web page idea became lost in the passages of time, John's love of film did not. Now he's back, writing for The Unheard Nerd.

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