My Favourite Arnie Movie – True Lies (1994)

With Arnold Schwarzenegger returning to the big screen in The Last Stand, the Flickering Myth writing team look back at their favourite Arnie movies. Next up, Piers McCarthy with 1994’s True Lies…

Imagine a world where Arnie had not met James Cameron. Hating to build on his already huge ego, Arnie does owe a lot to The Terminator, Avatar and Abyss director. Were it not for the infamous scene (originally penned as “I will be back” though changed with Cameron’s insistence to “I’ll be back”) we wouldn’t have the Austrian Oak as a beloved celebrity, or at least not in the same way. Collaborating on The Terminator and T2 established a great working relationship, making the two of them the icons they are today. If one can pick any faults in these two films it’s that they took themselves very seriously. In light of this minor / pedantic criticism, Cameron and Schwarzenegger chose to have some frenetic fun with their next budget. The result was True Lies, a quasi- parody of the Bond films, and a remarkably entertaining spy movie. Even with someone like Tom Arnold as Arnie’s sidekick the film managed to tip-toe over any issues you may have with the set-up and leave you wanting more (the proposed sequel never going ahead).

Based on a 1991 French film La Totale!, the film was about a secret agent (Schwarzenegger) whose wife and daughter think is a humble computer salesman. As his identity becomes compromised, Harry’s home life is dangerously jeopardised and his daughter becomes the terrorists’ hostage. True Lies was in fact Arnold’s gift to Cameron, a script he had read and felt prime material for him and his Terminator pal. He couldn’t have been more right and with Cameron’s tact for directing action as well as a dry sense of humour, True Lies ended up being the pair’s perfect vehicle after the seminal Terminator films.

If this film was to remade today there would be a good chance of extreme censorship. The sequel, that would have reunited the main cast and Cameron, was shelved due to post 9/11 concerns and Cameron’s decision that “terrorism just isn’t funny anymore”. That’s why True Lies remains such a classic – it’s been created in a time where these particular filmmakers were successful enough to make their own decisions against the studio. It has its tongue firmly in its cheek and no holds barred concerning violence and action.

The film is full of fantastic set pieces, from the beginning’s mansion scene, the bathroom brawl, the horse and motorcycle chase and the Florida Keys climax. In all these moments violence and comedy is expertly played. From Tom Arnold’s bullet-shielding lamppost incident or furious machine-gun fire there is an abundance of guilty entertainment. The film is an amalgamation of the cop thrillers of the 1940s, the Bond franchise, and the 80s action epics – its postmodern handling of form, style and characterisation made it not only a crowd-pleaser but an anomalous example for film theory. With plenty of pastiche and panache, it makes for cinematic gold – a film ready to be re-watched time and time again and even studied, if the occasion called for it.

Grounded in its own ridiculousness, you can see how all the actors are having a blast being part of the movie. Tom Arnold as the chatty Glib has a bunch of funny one-liners whilst Bill Paxton as the airhead Simon gives the film hilarious laugh out loud moments. Some humanity is imparted thanks to Jamie Lee Curtis as the sex-deprived wife, a role quickly altered when her character becomes involved in Harry’s world. A natural beauty, Curtis’ infamous dance scene makes any Bond girl look like a TOWIE dog. Curtis’ work in comedy (Trading Places, A Fish Called Wanda) allowed her to ease into the film’s barmy world.

The star of the show has honestly never bettered himself when it comes to playing the almost-average Joe. Arnie’s action hero persona is played upon to no end whilst also showing his domesticated personality that had begun to develop soon after T2. By the 1990s he was an atypical all-American hero, protecting the nuclear family from threats against the USA. It always seem funny how his Austrian accent and humungous stature is never brought up in this (or in most of his other films), especially with him being a “computer salesman”; the choice to ignore those features give True Lies an increased self-awareness of its laissez-faire energy.

Not always concerned with the cheesy one-liners (some of the best being: “Ditch the bitch”, “Cool off”, “You’re fired!” and “I married Rambo!”) or full-on farce, True Lies is a well-written genre (bending) piece that finds the perfect tone in what it is doing. It contains a load of memorable scenes and a cheeky type of comedy seldom that sharp in contemporary cinema. If Cameron could return to this type of filmmaking the modern action/comedy film would be better off. Him and Arnie took a chance with this project but equally mastered the execution of it. Nothing has really come close to matching True Lies since; it remains a unique movie in the cavalcade of cinema, and one that never fails to entertain.

Piers McCarthy

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