T is for… True Lies
True Lies, directed James Cameron, is one of those films that’s been somewhat at the periphery of my thought for years. I knew of its existence, but never caught it on TV at the right time. I also had always wanted to see it because I knew Eliza Dushku is in it (I was an avid Buffy fan from day one). The film wasn’t quite what I had expected it to be, and was actually quite funny.
The film opens on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Harry Tasker infiltrating a party. He is posing as Harry Renquist, and is clearly a spy because he has two assistants/handlers named Gib (Tom Arnold) and Faisal (Grant Heslov) monitoring his progress from a nearby van. Tasker is on a mission that eventually goes sour, but not before he’s able to engage in conversation with Juno Skinner (Tia Carrere), an art dealer. Gib eventually drops him back at home, where his wife, Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis), believes he is a computer salesman.
Tasker’s team works for the Omega Sector in Washington, DC, an organization that monitors and apprehends terrorists. They are on the search for one terrorist and Tasker’s team gets followed on their way home that night. After a chase sequence Tasker is able to identify the terrorist chasing them as Salim Abu Aziz (Art Malik). This leads the team back to Juno Skinner, who they suspect is helping Aziz smuggle weapons into America.
While the whole terrorist plotline is occurring, Tasker is also trying to piece together his home life. His daughter Dana (Dushku) is an utterly jaded teen, and his wife Helen is a plain, bored woman who wants some excitement in her life. Tasker accidentally finds out that Helen has been meeting a strange man named Simon (Bill Paxton) and believes she is having an affair. Tasker has Gib tap her phone line at work and Tasker investigates Simon and even follows him to his place of business. Simon informs him that he tells the women he’s seeing that he’s a spy and he needs their help to complete his missions. Obviously Tasker is annoyed with that because he cannot tell his wife he is a spy, and he thinks she’s cheating on him with this idiot.
Tasker and Gib play both Simon and Helen and take them in for “questioning,” leading to Tasker learning how unhappy his wife is with their home life. She wants to be able to say she’s done something exiting in her life. So, Tasker and Gib plan a fake a mission for her, and go back and scare the pants off of Simon. Tasker has Helen meet him—in the shadows so she can’t see it’s him—in a hotel room, and he makes her do a striptease. Just as he’s about to let her know it’s him Aziz’s men kidnap both of them.
It’s revealed Juno has been using her art business to help Aziz smuggle weapons. They all travel to an island in the Florida Keys, where Aziz has his bombs delivered. Tasker and Helen are tied up, but they are able to escape and kill just about everyone on the island. Aziz and Juno of course escape, and Tasker has less than 90 minutes to find them and do something about the nuclear bomb that’s going to detonate.
In yet another chase, Tasker and his team (who tracked him using the bug Gib put in Helen’s purse) use a helicopter to follow Juno (who has Helen) and then henchmen with another bomb. Of course the chase ends with Helen being rescued and Juno dying, and Tasker and Helen are able to reunite happily. Okay, so he dangles her from a helicopter. Whatever.
But wait, meanwhile Aziz has kidnapped Dana. Tasker flies a military jet to the unfinished high-rise Aziz has chosen for his next announcement about his plans to blow everyone up. Faisal sneaks in and is able to help kill henchmen, but not before Dana runs off with the key to the detonator. Aziz chases her out over the road on a crane, allowing Tasker to fly his jet right underneath them. Both Dana and Aziz drop to the jet, and there’s a fight between Tasker and Aziz. Finally Tasker is able to roll the jet so Aziz lands on the missile launcher, and Tasker fires him to his death.
The film ends nicely, with the Tasker home a happy place. During dinner Helen answers the phone, and she and Tasker are called away on a spy mission, their lives finally woven together.
On to the criteria!
A is for… Accents
Arnold of course has his Austrian accent, which never fails to sound strange when he’s playing a married character. He’s just so…Arnold…it’s hard to imagine he marries a normal woman and has a normal job (or in this case pretends to have a normal job).
What’s interesting about the film is that there are several languages spoken, including German, Arabic, and French, and not just by the bad guys, but at the parties.
B is for… Bad Guys
Tasker meets Juno Skinner at the party in the opening sequence. Juno is a beautiful art dealer that Tasker (well, Renquist) is able to pick up, but it turns out she is helping smuggle weapons into the United States.
The guy controlling the shots is Salim Abu Aziz, who is highly fanatical and runs the Crimson Jihad, a (presumably Muslim) organization that wants to enact revenge on America. Car bombs are a large part of his crimes.
C is for… Chases
In the rousing opening sequence, Tasker is involved in a long chase that includes him on his feet while he’s chased by dogs, then guys on snowmobiles, then guys on skis and carrying machine guns.
Tasker chases Aziz on foot through a mall (in a sequence reminiscent of Commando), and then Aziz steals a motorcycle and Tasker steals a horse. …if that isn’t weird enough, keep in mind part of the chase involves glass elevators, and Tasker chastising the horse for not jumping across six lanes of traffic plus sidewalks.
Towards the end the pilots for the Omega Sector chase the drivers for the Crimson Tide. It wouldn’t be as exciting if it didn’t take place on one of the long highways across the wide waterways in Florida. It was very scenic.
D is for… Damsels
Juno Skinner is a sexy art dealer who winds up not being much of a damsel at all, just someone else in it for the money, no matter who gets hurt.
Helen Tasker is Harry’s bored and lonely housewife, and who has a seemingly boring and safe job as a legal secretary. When she’s interrogated by Tasker and Gib she explains that she wants excitement in her life and to be able to say that she “did something” exciting and important. She has absolutely no idea what her husband does, so either he’s an exceptional liar or she’s exceptionally clueless. What’s really effective in the film is that it seems like the production team put a lot of effort into making Helen plain and frumpy. It contrasts incredibly with the way she dances so sexily during her striptease, and the confident way in which she handles the room during the party in the final scene.
Dana is Helen and Harry’s 14-year-old daughter, and she seems particularly jaded and ill-behaved. She even steals money out of Gibs’s wallet. Tasker doesn’t seem to know her very well; in fact, Gib has to tell him how old she is. She does, however, seem to redeem herself by stealing the detonation key from Aziz and then climbing out over scaffolding and forcing him to climb after her.
E is for… Explosions
During the party in Switzerland in the opening sequence, Tasker detonates an explosion to distract the guards so he can escape.
During the chase at the beginning, a snowmobile smashes into a tree and of course explodes.
A grenade is thrown into flammable drums on the island.
Somehow Aziz fires a rocket launcher at Tasker and manages to blow up everything but him.
Omega uses missiles launched from fighter jets to blow up part of the highway in order to stop the Crimson Tide guys driving the vans.
Hilariously, one of the vans for the Crimson Tide teeters on the broken roadway, until a pelican lands on it and upsets its balance. As the van slowly impacts with the road debris, it explodes.
The missile carrying Aziz at the end explodes into a helicopter.
F is for… Flashbacks
No flashbacks in this one.
G is for… Guns
Check out the complete list at the IMFDB.
Like any good spy, Tasker carries a handgun.
There’s an impressive and ridiculous shootout between Tasker and bad guys on skis and snowmobiles.
The shootout in the bathroom involves machine guns for the bad guys and Tasker’s hand gun. It’s actually quite interesting to have a shootout in a film with so much damage in such a small area; it seems like more often than not movie shootouts involve some squibs and some smoke and there’s not that much damage visible around the characters. Well, here the bathroom gets completely destroyed and even floods. It’s nice to see. So to speak.
Tasker uses his gun to scare the pee out of Simon.
On the island the terrorists are all armed to the teeth, of course. They’re all obviously well-funded.
Helen and Juno struggle over a handgun in the limo, which helps show how much Helen has grown over a short period. The Helen before she got intrigued by Simon and then got kidnapped with Harry likely never would have shown such moxie.
H is for… Helicopters
Omega has its helicopter that follows Helen and Simon.
Two more Omega choppers bring Tasker’s team to Florida.
The near-climax chase sequence of the film substitutes fighter jets in place of helicopters, and they are used to chase the Crimson Tide vans and also blow up the roadway.
A memorable use of a helicopter has Tasker hanging from the landing skids and reaching to lift Helen from the limo before it crashes. It takes a few tries and the solidification of the emotional bond between them, but ultimately Tasker is able to grab Helen and hang on to her. She dangles across the water, screaming all the while.
The Crimson Tide has a helicopter flying around the building it overtakes at the end.
I is for… Improvisation
In the bathroom Tasker uses the hand drier as a club.
Helen uses the hotel phone as a club.
As plainly laid out by him while under truth serum, Tasker uses the Patterson trocar on the torture tools tray as a throwing weapon.
Tasker crawls down a hanging rope head first.
A champagne bottle gets used as a club.
J is for… Jumping Through Solid Objects
During the chase through the mall Aziz jumps through a window onto the street. The window looks like real glass, unlike the fake stuff that crumbles. Tasker soon follows him through the remaining shards.
K is for… Kill Count
It’s impossible to keep track of Tasker’s kill count from the first scene in the movie. Any time there’s a broad shootout with many bad guys, it’s impossible to tell who’s dead and who’s just wounded. And there are plenty that are only wounded.
Obvious kills are the torturer and the guards outside the torture room.
Many kills are accomplished through neck snapping, and movies like this always make it look so easy to do such a thing.
Like in Commando, Tasker’s kill count on the island rivals that of John Matrix at the compound: pretty much everyone except the main villain.
L is for… Limitations
Like with other Arnold films, the hero doesn’t seem to have many limitations. Even here in True Lies Tasker doesn’t suffer from the usual “lone wolf in the wrong place at the wrong time” trope so common in action films. Tasker is basically at work. The opening scene and his coworkers’ regard establish Tasker as highly competent and resourceful. He also has company resources at his fingertips.
M is for… Motivation
Surprisingly, Juno is in it for the money. …that was sarcasm. For every one villain who is working for a cause, probably three are in it for the money. If not more.
Aziz is one of those villains who isn’t in it for the money; he is a religious fanatic who wants revenge against the American military presence in his country, and the deaths it’s caused.
Tasker is at first fighting simply because ensuring national security is his actual job. However, he eventually is fighting to save his wife and then his daughter.
N is for… Negotiation
Gib and Tasker tell Helen, while she thinks she’s in trouble and being interrogated as a spy, that she must work for them or her life will be destroyed.
Tasker is told, “Talk or your wife dies.”
Aziz threatens that he will bomb an American city every week if the American military presence is not pulled out of Persia.
O is for… One Liners
Gib: You do not have time to tango, buddy.
Tasker: Do we know where she is?
Faisal: Right here in River City.
Tasker: This is the problem with terrorists. They’re really inconsiderate with other people’s schedules.
Tasker, as he flushes a urinal on a bad guy: Here, cool off.
Tasker, over the radio: And make it quick, because my horse is getting tired.
Tasker: Stop cheering me up.
Tasker: Give me the goddamn page! (this wouldn’t be hilarious in itself except it’s accented by Tasker smashing a car window with his hand)
Helen: I married Rambo. (which is an interesting comment because Harry is absolutely nothing like Rambo—he isn’t a soldier, he isn’t suffering from PTSD, and Rambo isn’t a spy. Harry is much more like James Bond, or even John McClane. …or John Matrix…)
Tasker, as Aziz is launched on a missile: You’re fired.
P is for… Profession
For once, the hero of the day is actually a trained spy and is simply doing his job, and is clearly excellent at it. Tasker works for the Omega Sector: The Last Line of Defense, which clearly is a highly secret terrorist-fighting branch of the DoD. Among weapon-handling skills, Tasker is also a highly trained schmoozer.
Q is for… Quagmire
On the island Tasker and Helen are alone and tied up, and Tasker is even injected with a truth serum. However, because Tasker had been depicted as basically unstoppable the entire movie, it’s hard to feel any sort of fear or tension regarding the outcome of his situation.
R is for… Reality/Suspension of Disbelief
Any attempt to take the film seriously as something that could happen gets wiped out by the motorcycle and horse chase sequence. As if the sequence isn’t silly enough in itself, especially with the elevators, it is capped by absurdity when Aziz is able to jump and make the landing onto the building across the street. There’re six lanes of traffic and also sidewalks, plus the deck around the pool. Aziz has less than 50 feet to build up speed, and there is no way he would make that jump. And then Tasker tries to follow him by making the horse jump! At least the horse has some sense.
On the island Helen has a machine gun that she doesn’t seem to know how to use (because, really, why would she?), so it’s fortunate that she drops it down the stairs. As it falls it continues to fire and kills or wounds all of the bad guys fighting Tasker. Tasker doesn’t even have a scratch. A gun falling and firing on its own has better aim than all the terrorists.
During the chase on the highway, the limo driver is shot, yet the limo keeps accelerating in a straight line. Actually the limo corrects itself so it keeps driving straight down the road without crashing.
S is for… Sidekicks
Gib seems to be Tasker’s handler, and he stays in the van and drives the van. He is sarcastic. He and Tasker seem to be friends outside of work, and even seems to be part of the Tasker family.
Faisal seems to be the tech guy in the van, based on him decrypting files. He also sneaks inside Aziz’s hostage area at the end by posing as a cameraman.
At the end of the film Helen is depicted as Tasker’s partner.
T is for… Technology
Being that Tasker is a spy, he uses many different sorts of tech, including underwater spy gear.
There’s use of a modem, and encrypted files.
Omega uses actual tape to make audio recordings.
There’s a ccd camera in a pack of cigarettes that sends an image to a pair of sunglasses.
Being “fully equipped” includes having a fax machine.
Tasker puts a GPS tracker in Helen’s purse, and wiretaps her phone.
U is for… Unexpected Romance
With a different spin on the trope, by the end of the film Tasker has rekindled his romance with Helen.
V is for… Vehicles as Weapons
There is nothing that stands out, just vehicles being used in their intended ways.
W is for… Winning
Once Tasker and Helen are off the island, Tasker chases Helen down and is able to rescue her, inadvertently kill Juno, and keep the Crimson Tide from distributing/setting up their bomb. But wait! Dana has been kidnapped by Aziz. Tasker steals a jet to fly it to the building where Aziz is keeping his daughter hostage.
Dana, meanwhile, has stolen the detonator key for the bomb and climbs out onto a crane with it. Aziz is forced to chase her out over the street, which not only allows Tasker to reach both of them in time, but also allows him to get into a good position with the jet.
Of course there’s a fight on the jet, while Dana hangs on for her life. After signaling his intentions to Dana, Tasker rolls the jet, which causes Aziz to fall over the jet’s missile. Tasker fires the missile, which carries Aziz as it crashes into a Crimson Tide helicopter on the other side of the building.
X is for… X-rays, or Maybe You Should See A Doctor
Tasker barely seems to get a bruise or scrape the entire movie, as is par for the course for an Arnold movie. But surely he can’t be invincible all the time. Does Helen never notice bruises, scrapes, cuts, anything on him? Maybe she doesn’t see him intimately much anymore.
Y is for… Yesterday’s Problems Become Today’s Problems
Tasker gets his family involved by having been lying to them. Not that there’s any easy or even probable way to explain to his family what he does, the lies—true or not—risk his family’s lives.
Z is for… Zone, In The
As impressive as Tasker is, there’s an air of him just doing his normal everyday job. The only time he looks really focused on his intentions is in the jet, when he’s fighting Aziz and trying to save Dana.
True Lies is absolutely nothing like I expected it to be, and likely for the better. It is certainly not a typical lone wolf action film, and it’s all the more entertaining because of it. There’s a rather tongue-in-cheek feel to the whole thing.
Helen is terrible at following Harry’s lead, oh my god. He keeps trying to get Juno to believe he’s never met Helen until that night, and Helen just won’t shut up about being his wife. I’d’ve lost my cool with her way before then!
On the island Tasker’s shirt is open and it gets ripped, and he’s sweaty. Finally the image is of Arnold as we know him.
That jet in the climax is an excellent use of an unfamiliar vehicle being used for something crazy over city streets. Very fun.
Overall the movie itself is very fun. There’s action, humor, and even some romance, but not the gross kind of romance. The cast is kind of an interesting “who’s who” of stars of the ‘90s, and it all seems to work together to make something that’s very fun to watch.