Today! Because I remember the first time I got shot out of a cannon –
True Lies (1994)
Directed by James Cameron (x4)
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (x3), Jamie Lee Curtis (x3), Tom Arnold, Tia Carrere, Bill Paxton (x6), Grant Heslov, Eliza Dushku (x2), Charlton Heston (x2), Art Malik
I have a tendency to forget how balls-out insane the climax of this movie gets, because the brilliant middle section of the film pulls the action-adventure epic so far into straight comedy. In a lot of ways, True Lies is the ultimate ’90s action film, while somehow working as a terrific parody of the genre and cinematic era in general. It’s hard to tell if the movie builds toward the utterly ludicrous final showdown as a way of satirizing the bombastic action movies of the day and before, or if it just wanted to try and top them all. Amazingly, it works in either fashion, from certain points of view.
Schwarzenegger’s recent forays into full-on comedy with the likes of Kindergarten Cop and Twins served him well playing secret-agent-disguised-as-computer-salesman (albeit a super jacked one) Harry Tasker. His James Bond/Rambo operative gets off plenty of jokes and light-touch comic moments, amidst the daring and derring-do, opposite great comedy turns by Tom Arnold and Grant Heslov as his team members, Jamie Lee Curtis as his unsuspecting wife, and especially the late, great Extreme, Bill Paxton, as the oily car salesman gaslighting as a secret agent himself. When this middle section of the film starts, it feels like a wild left turn in the plot – up until then, we are just following a fun but routine spy-centric plot about smuggled weapons and Tia Carrere’s revealing eveningwear – but quickly resources are diverted, attention is shifted, and Paxton’s sleezy Simon is full center. While this whole sequence does open the door for all the wacky complications that lead to the film’s kidnap escaping/nuclear explosion/helicopter-limo rescue/Harrier jet-skyscraper third act, it also is the true genius stroke of the film, even if it only tangentially matters to the story. Without Simon trying to seduce Helen, you’d have an undoubtedly fun but pretty standard Schwarzenegger romp. Forever MVP the Extreme!
But again, I tend to focus on this middle area when discussing or even thinking about True Lies. I’m not a huge fan of over-the-top guns-and-explosions action movies from this time – your Con Airs and The Rocks and Erasers and so on – so I think I overlook the fact that the main villain of this film literally ends up strapped to rocket hurled through a building into a helicopter filled with terrorists. That’s the actual way this movie ends. Is it thrilling excitement? Absolutely, and I enjoy shit blowing up as much as anybody, but you’ll recall how few of these type of films have made this list so far. It’s gotta have a little something more than simply expensive kabooms, neck breaking, and hot ladies. This movie still has all that, along with the yuks!
There is no good excuse why we as a people were deprived of a True Lies sequel when they’ve made like six Terminators and seven Aliens, so I’m again going to blame Titanic. Without Cameron’s wild success on the chilly boat picture, he may have been more inclined to release films between ’97 and ’09, and what was more logical than the continuing story of Harry and Helen Tasker? There are plenty of stories around why it wasn’t made – Schwarzenegger’s political career and 9/11 primarily – but between Titanic taking years to complete, and Avatar derailing Cameron for apparently the rest of his life, I can only assume it really comes down to success ruining a once great filmmaker. Yes, that’s my stance – if you made great movies once upon a time and then put out one film in the span of the last 21 years, you’ve wasted your talent and straight-up deprived the world. Suck it, Cameron!
The closest thing we got – not to go too far into the weeds here – was Tom Arnold’s pseudo mock reality film spin-off thing The Kid & I from 2005, wherein a rich boy’s father enlists Arnold (playing basically himself) to write and co-star in a film very like True Lies with his son. It’s the plot of the movie, but also the exact circumstances behind the making of the film. This meta-Hollywood experiment/vanity project/homemade Make A Wish type endeavor is a pretty fascinating story, even if it boasted no real box office success, but all proceeds for the movie go to the United Cerebal Palsy organization, so go buy a copy, if that’s still possible!
Nominated for a Visual Effects Oscar and Best Actress Comedy/Musical for Curtis, True Lies is the fourth and last Cameron film on the list, following #296 Titanic, #110 Terminator 2, and #222 Aliens, while Paxton leads the way for the actors, joining the Six-Timers after his roles in Titanic, Aliens, #306 Tombstone, #84 Twister, and #287 Stripes. Yes, this is his first list film with more than one word for a title!