True Lies

A James Bond pastiche for the 1990s, TRUE LIES is hugely elaborate and ultimately disturbing, a big empty gloss on action formulas with an ugly edge that belies its all-in-good-fun surface. Special agent Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) emerges from the water outside a heavily guarded mansion, peels off his wetsuit to reveal the dinner jacket underneath,...read more

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A James Bond pastiche for the 1990s, TRUE LIES is hugely elaborate and ultimately disturbing, a big empty gloss on action formulas with an ugly edge that belies its all-in-good-fun surface.

Special agent Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) emerges from the water outside a heavily guarded mansion, peels off his wetsuit to reveal the dinner jacket underneath, and strolls into a swanky party. He tangos with a treacherous woman (Tia Carrere), steals some computer files, and escapes in

a spectacular flurry of gunfire and masked pursuers on skis. Now for the joke: Harry goes home to mousy wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) and the sham of his domestic life, in which he pretends to be a computer salesman. Helen is so bored by household routine that she's on the verge of giving in to

smarmy used-car salesman Simon (Bill Paxton), who woos her by claiming to be a spy. For the rest of the film, Harry must serve two masters: while pursuing Arab terrorists led by charismatic Aziz (Art Malik), he attempts to save his marriage, which involves using the Agency's considerable resources

to terrorize Simon and Helen.

It's so hard to separate TRUE LIES the movie from TRUE LIES the $120 million phenomenon that perhaps it's not worth trying. Interestingly enough, the film is based on a much-lower-budgeted French comedy called LA TOTALE! (1981), directed by Claude Zidi (MY NEW PARTNER). James Cameron's

reworking of that film, however, is a smirking monument to self-referential excess: everything is big, bigger, biggest, from the action sequences to the star, and when something doesn't work on the level of spectacle, it's played as a joke. On the surface, TRUE LIES is an affectionate homage to

James Bond movies, ratcheted up to meet the action/adventure expectations of today's audiences.

But TRUE LIES also picks up a lot of nasty subtext from the Bond films and expands upon it (deliberately or not), and the larky atmosphere is ultimately poisoned by racism, homophobia, and misogyny. In the wake of the film's release, many noted that no other racial stereotype is so widely

tolerated as that of Arabs as wild-eyed terrorists in kaffiyehs, and TRUE LIES panders to that image shamelessly. It also puts forth, without a trace of irony, the idea that exotic women are two-faced temptresses, as well as the notion that all women are whores at heart, and stupid ones at that.

True lies, indeed.

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  • Released: 1994
  • Rating: R
  • Review: A James Bond pastiche for the 1990s, TRUE LIES is hugely elaborate and ultimately disturbing, a big empty gloss on action formulas with an ugly edge that belies its all-in-good-fun surface. Special agent Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) emerges from… (more)

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