Monday, January 21, 2008

True Lies

This was the last big hit Arnold Schwarzenegger had before his film career started to fall apart, and watching it again, it’s not too hard to figure out why. From the mid-80s to the mid-90s, a time when there were a number of major action movie stars, from Stallone to Van Damme, he was THE action star. When this came out, it seemed to be, and was, another sure-fire winner, with him reuniting with James Cameron, who had previously written and directed the Terminator movies. Somehow, though, it all went wrong immediately afterwards; his next movie Junior, released the same year, was a comedy where he played a scientist that impregnates himself, and was his biggest box office flop up to that point. What followed was a string of commercial and critical duds, with Terminator 3, released nine years after True Lies, being the only hit he’s had since.

As I said before, this film, while still good, shows what was going wrong for his career. It’s an action-comedy-romance that keeps going to the wrong types of excess without giving us enough of the good excess that we crave with these types of films. The film is basically broken up in two halves. The first involves Arnold as a spy who’s so secret that even his family thinks he’s just a boring white collar worker, and who becomes scandalized when he unwittingly stumbles across what he thinks is evidence that his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) is having an affair with a used car dealer that has told her that he himself is a spy. The second half is a more traditional Arnold piece involving him and Curtis trying to gun down a bunch of terrorists before they can launch a nuke at an American city. Neither of these parts is done badly, though quite frankly, the movie would have been better if one or the other had been shortened or done away with entirely. At just under two and a half hours long, it’s a bit excessive (there’s that term again).

Indeed, it’s the more traditional “Let’s kill the terrorists!” part that would have been best to lessen. There are good chunks of it that simply feel like everyone was just going through the motions, generally playing it more for laughs than for anything else. There’s no real sense of danger anywhere, so you can’t find it truly exhilarating, and it doesn’t reach the heights of complete insanity that recent action films like Live Free or Die Hard or Shoot ‘Em Up do, so you can’t enjoy it on that level either. The 80s style “big muscles, big guns” action film was dying out by this point in general, so I suppose this worked well enough for people as the coda. It was clear that a change was needed to the formula or else stagnation would set in, which is, well, what did end up happening. It’s a shame, because I really like Schwarzenegger’s work, and wish he had been able to make the leap into comedies and dramas, but apparently he just couldn’t do it.

So in conclusion, this is a good movie and if you haven’t seen it, do so. Just be aware that it’s not his best work, nor does its climax work as well as its first hour.

Rating: ***

No comments: