True Lies: The Last Of The Action Hero
Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the top of his game by the mid Nineties. Established as one of the biggest names in the action genre, it looked like there was no stopping him after the huge success that was Terminator 2: Judgement Day. However, not long after there was a film that slightly derailed his winning streak; The Last Action Hero.
In his mid-Forties by this point, it could be said that Schwarzenegger was looking to capitalise on his success in films like Twins and Kindergarten Cop as a way to continue his career but without doing something that was completely out of character. Interested by the script which seemed to be tailor made for him, Schwarzenegger took up the project and the fourth wall breaking action comedy was released – and it bombed. However, Schwarzenegger’s next project would be something different and the mixture of action and comedy would be a much better fit. After all, Schwarzenegger would be once again working with the one director that made the best of him on the silver screen. James Cameron.
Arnie plays Harry Tasker, a secret agent working for Omega Sector, a secret organisation that frequently helped save the world from the most dangerous people who were determined to ruin the lives of the American people. Along with his team, Albert Gibson (Tom Arnold) and Faisil (Grant Heslov), Harry travelled the world working to foil the most nefarious plans of the world’s terrorists. However, Harry has another life and one that is quite different than that of a super spy. Harry is happily married to Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) and they have a teenage daughter Dana (Eliza Dushku). Life is like any other suburban household – or at least that’s what Harry thinks.
The truth is that Helen has been secretly talking to a man called Simon (Bill Paxton) who says that he is a secret agent. Naturally Helen is enthralled by the mysterious man and feels that she’s finally getting the excitement she craves in her life that her computer salesman husband can’t give her. How is it that the Taskers know so little about each other’s secret lives? Dana is also stealing money from her father and has a boyfriend who drives a motorcycle. Typical Teenager.
After the box office failure that was The Last Action Hero, not many thought Schwarzenegger would try to lampoon his career once again so it goes to show that to get things right, it’s all about the execution. True Lies is the action movie parody that goes beyond parody and just turns out to be a great action movie. All the elements are just right and where the jokes in The Last Action Hero may have felt a little too self-aware, True Lies sets the scene and makes the audience laugh through its increasingly outlandish settings and the cast’s terrific performances. However, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comedy homage to the genre that made his career would be nothing without Tom Arnold’s frustrated sidekick, Art Malik’s comedy terrorist and Jamie Lee Curtis as his most unlikely on-screen partner. Bill Paxton also gives a near unrecognisable performance as the slimy Simon and Tia Carrere gets the best out of a role which could have been generic in any other spy thriller.
What makes True Lies work so well is putting Schwarzenegger in his usual action role but giving it a spin. Instead of the sweaty, gun totting explosives expert that he usually portrays (however, that does come later), the audience sees Arnie in an entirely new way as a suave, tuxedo wearing man of mystery. The Austrian former bodybuilding champion sticks out like a sore thumb and is the last person any secret organisation would send on a covert operation and the movie is entirely aware of how unsuitable Schwarzenegger is for the role. Also, when it is revealed that Harry has a family in the suburbs, the audience finds this equally unbelievable and this helps set the tone for the film, further adding to the farcical nature of Arnie’s career where he’s played anything from a construction worker to a Kindergarten teacher.
True Lies felt like a turning point in his career and as much as the script sent out one joke after another, the escalating preposterousness of the action set pieces revealed the action genre’s increasingly silly nature. However, these days it seems the irony of an action movie that defies the laws of physics is all but lost on a modern audience. Giving Schwarzenegger the perfect send off from the action genre, True Lies couldn’t have been better as it reminded audiences that Arnie could be funny as well as a role model for the testosterone filled, adrenaline junkies that were his fanbase. Also, there were a couple of family friendly comedies (Junior and Jingle All the Way) on the horizon so for Schwarzenegger, the timing couldn’t be better.
However, it was never meant to be. Schwarzenegger’s career ended up taking a steadily declining nosedive as both his comedy projects barely made any money at the box office. Arnie’s career would never be the same again and his attempts at rejuvenating his action career never came anywhere close to the success he had before. Although for his final hurrah, at least True Lies gave us the last and the best of the action hero.
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