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‘True Lies’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 15, 1994

If Arnold Schwarzenegger were your husband of 15 years, claimed to be nothing more than a mild-mannered computer salesman, constantly called to say he was running late at the office and didn't even remember his daughter's age, wouldn't you have a few questions?

"Arnold honey," you might say. "We'll get to your funny accent later, but you sell computers, right? So where did you get the enormous muscles? Lugging monitors around? And what exactly keeps you away from home?"

You know, stuff like that. But in "True Lies," Jamie Lee Curtis -- who plays Arnold's wife -- doesn't have the slightest suspicion. She just thinks her hubby's a little dull, forgetful and endearingly bionic. After all, this is a James Cameron action picture. The characters -- including Tom Arnold, Bill Paxton and Art Malik -- merely resemble people. They are there simply to react to the mega-budget activity around them.

When Schwarzenegger leaves home he goes to his real job -- as a multilingual super-operative for Omega Sector, a secret government agency in Washington run by an eye-patched Charlton Heston. The latest world menace is Aziz (Malik), a dangerous ideologue with fanatical plans to terrorize the United States with nuclear weaponry.

"They call him the Sand Spider," says special agent Grant Hezlov at an Omega briefing.

"Why?" asks Heston.

"Probably," Hezlov offers, "because it sounds scary."

But as Schwarzenegger learns, there's something even more threatening than Aziz: the possibility that his wife is having an affair. It's not enough to protect the planet. Now he's got to save the marriage.

Cameron's script, a rewrite of a screenplay by Claude Zidi, Simon Michael and Didier Kaminka, is clearly an updated James Bond picture. It has a Bond film's humor, its multiple locales (Washington, Switzerland, the Florida Keys), the whiz-kid gadgetry and Tia Carrera as a slinky psycho-seductress.

Cameron, maker of "Aliens," "The Abyss" and both "Terminator" movies, ratchets up the 007 ante to brilliant, but increasingly crazy, heights. "True Lies" is the movie equivalent of Operation Desert Storm, with its Harrier jump jets and helicopters, its surface-to-air missiles and atomic warheads -- and an army of heroes and terrorists to fly in them, die in them, fire them, ride on them or hang precariously from them.

In one of the movie's standout scenes, Schwarzenegger (on horseback) chases Malik (on a motorcycle) through Washington's streets and into the J. W. Marriott. They carve dangerous paths through crowds of diving, gasping hotel guests until they reach a twin set of glass elevators.

Getting into one of them, Malik -- still on his bike -- heads towards the roof. Schwarzenegger coaxes his horse into the other elevator, only to find a terrified elderly couple staring at him.

"Press da button for ze top floor, please," says Arnold.

This mixture of comedy and super-agent spectacle works well at first. But when Schwarzenegger's family and working worlds link up -- an inevitable development -- the plot becomes increasingly ridiculous and overwrought.

Like a deranged bulimic, Cameron constantly tries to one-up himself. Gorging insatiably on incendiary effects and big-scale machinery (he really likes those Harrier jets), he piles one climactic development upon another. There's enough material here for two sequels. While he's concentrating on this assault, Cameron overlooks such "minor" human details as Curtis's pseudo-evolution from trusting wallflower to quintessential Cameron superfemale or Malik's shtick as a dark-eyed, evil terrorist, which doesn't do wonders for the Arab community.

If these and other shortcomings are hidden by high-powered suspense-meistering, they come through loud and clear later, like the eerie silence after a bomb blast.

"True Lies" contains violence, partial nudity and profanity.

Copyright The Washington Post

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