True Lies (1994)

2010 #62
James Cameron | 135 mins | DVD | 15 / R

Quite how I’ve not got round to seeing True Lies until now is a little beyond me. Perhaps — no, definitely — if they’d re-released a better edition on DVD I’d’ve bought it and seen it then; but they never did, and so it’s taken ’til now to reach the top of my rental queue (not that my rental service works that way) and ‘force my hand’, as it were (because it’s certainly been on TV enough over the years).

True Lies is unusual on director James Cameron’s CV — though not, as things turned out, on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s — in that it’s a funny, daft comedy, a spoof of other action films. Where it differs from most spoofs is that it’s also a proper action movie. Most action-comedies can’t manage the former because they’re classed as the latter, with the limiting cast and budget to match, but Cameron’s background means he can put all the thrills, explosions and effects of an action movie into a comedy/spoof plot. Multiple boxes thoroughly ticked.

The comedy is quite broad — in particular, Tom Arnold is too OTT as Schwarzenegger’s sidekick — but it’s definitely a comedy, as opposed to an action movie that’s aware it’s a bit silly. Situations are pushed to extremes, clichés are played up, things go wrong in a way they’re liable to in real life but rarely do in films, action sequences are played for laughs as well as genuine excitement… The advantage to Cameron is he’s allowed to do some audacious things that might get laughed out in a straight actioner. The demise of the villain, for instance, is a great idea and great fun, but would be a step too far normally; but here that’s OK, because it’s allowed to be funny as well as cool.

Things go on a bit long in the middle, perhaps, when it gets bogged down in Harry dealing with his marital issues. But it’s a James Cameron film, of course it’s long in the middle. That said, it doesn’t feel like a James Cameron film — it’s far too funny. OK, sometimes it’s trying too hard to be funny rather than actually being funny, but a comedy is not what you expect from the rest of Cameron’s filmography, and it doesn’t feel distinctly ‘A James Cameron Film’ in the way that his Terminators, Aliens, Avatar, or even Titanic, do.

Other flaws emerge thanks to the film’s age. All the computer stuff feels a little dated now, but then that’s life (or rather, technology). It places the film firmly in that era of technological-ish thrillers that seemed to emerge as home computing was becoming more common, which makes the naïve computer sections actually a little nostalgic. Less forgivable are some really obvious stuntmen who stand in for Schwarzenegger. I don’t know if stunt people have always appeared so blatant — perhaps we’re just spoilt by the recent trend for actors to do everything themselves (and even if they don’t their face gets CG’d on).

True Lies isn’t perfect then, but the humour is funny enough and the action plenty exciting, particularly the famous Harrier Jump Jet-based finale. You can’t ask for more than that. Well, you can, but this’ll do.

4 out of 5

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