This is another movie that comes with a story of my own stupidity, making me miss out on something that would ultimately become my all-time favourite action film. I was out with a friend, and we debated what movie to see that day. He pushed for 'True Lies', which had been out for a few weeks already, and I pushed for 'The Mask', which was maybe about a week into its run AND I had already seen it! To defend me slightly, though, this was the year of Jim Carrey in which he was the funniest thing around AND had three movies in the same year.
I suppose at the time I thought something dumb like "Schwarzenegger movies come and go. Jim Carrey is what's IN right now!" I won the debate that day somehow. But when we fast-forward to when I finally DID watch 'True Lies' with another friend once it came to home video, I can still remember the regret I've felt to this day. 'True Lies' is a movie that defines the film that "has everything". It's funny, it's edgy, it's sexy, it's action-packed, it's full of great, quotable one-liners, and, unfortunately, the last of director James Cameron's movies like this. From here on out, he becomes Mr. Oscar bait with 'Titanic' and 'Avatar' - both great movies in their own rights, but not like what he used to make.
Here, we are introduced to Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a man who is made to live a double life. On one hand, he's a secret agent, currently working a case on a terrorist named Salim Abu Aziz (Art Malik), a.k.a. the Sand Spider (probably because it sounds scary). On the other hand, he's a loving husband to his wife, Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis), and father to a somewhat bratty teenage daughter, Dana (Eliza Dushku). They are none the wiser but tend to get frustrated about his constantly coming home late - even for his own birthday. To cover it all up, Harry poses for the family as a sales representative for a computer company, using "meetings running late" and "forgetting things at the office" as excuses.
When Helen comes to realize that Harry's really not there for her like she needs him to be, she begins to meet with a sleazy used car salesman named Simon (Bill Paxton) who, himself, is posing as a spy to give any (usually married) women he meets some kind of "spice" in their lives. One day while trying to visit Helen at her office for lunch, Harry discovers this apparent affair by overhearing a conversation. This is where Harry kinda loses it and begins spying on his wife to either catch her in the act or, hopefully, find that she can't go through with things and that she still loves him. He does this all with the help of his partner, Albert "Gib" Gibson (Tom Arnold) - who I usually don't enjoy but really like here.
In describing the overall plot, it might sound pretty trashy. But the fact of the matter is, this is really only about half of the movie. Through their personal problems, Harry and Helen get themselves crossed over and caught up in the terrorist activity that Harry and Gib were supposed to be focused on in the first place. Led by Aziz, a terrorist group calling themselves "Crimson Jihad" demands the US remove its forces from the Persian Gulf, or else he will detonate a nuclear warhead in one major American city each week until their demands are met. So no worries folks - a whole big chunk of this movie is still the Schwarzenegger action that his fans tend to crave.
The aforementioned nuclear warheads are smuggled in by an antique art dealer named Juno Skinner (Tia Carrere) and purchased by Aziz for a good amount of money. Juno actually provides the film with a pretty interesting character, as not only is she working for the enemy, but she seems to (at least at first) have a bit of a thing for Harry (under his fake name, Ranquest, posing as a collector of antiques). It's interesting to see the apparent curiosity about her "mystery man" in Helen. Still, you can also tell there's a little something there for Juno from Harry, who may be flirtatious, but otherwise very professional and keeps his distance. Both characters show restraint due to their love for each other, but they also walk on that edge.
Looking at a couple of other mains of the film, I have to appreciate how Schwarzenegger isn't JUST his big, muscular self in this, just being another action hero. It's neat to see him in a role almost closer to a James Bond type, complete with class while on the job, one-liners, and all-around charm. Jamie Lee Curtis is also amazing in this, showing off a solid range of acting skills with humor, drama, sexiness, and a stunt she did in real life that to this day is actually kind of mind-blowing. If youve seen the movie, you know the stunt, as it became sort of famous. If you haven't, watch it, and the stunt will probably stick out anyway.
So, facing facts, I think it's safe to say that we all have our own personal favourite when it comes to Schwarzenegger movies. There are so many great titles out there involving him, and he was once the undisputed king of the action genre. But I still feel like 'True Lies' is a very underrated film. I can still think of a few people who haven't seen it, it took a very long time to get to Blu-ray format (which I think has more to do with Cameron than anything), and if anyone I know has seen it, enough time has passed for it to be brand new to them again now.
Granted, some aspects of this movie might come across as a little dated, but I still think it's one of the best all-around action movies out there today. As I said before, this is a movie that has a little bit of everything one could want from an action movie. Think of it as a Michael Bay movie that has been turned down just a little bit to make way for story and dialogue. But the action is still great, and the humorous, quotable lines from it are very memorable. If you can find this movie, and you're a fan of old-school action, it's very well worth the watch!