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‘True Lies’ (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 15, 1994

Nuclear terrorists take on the nuclear family and live just long enough to rue the day in "True Lies," a slick, sick espionage thriller featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger as the James Bond of the '90s. It's really the same old Arn-man, except that he defends traditional American values like misogyny and xenophobia while dressed in a tux.

In addition, the lovable lummox speaks six languages fluently (English doesn't seem to be one of them) and scopes fabulous femmes fatales, though all the while remaining faithful to his mousy missis (Jamie Lee Curtis) back in the Washington 'burbs.

Deceptively labeled a domestic epic by writer-director James Cameron, the $100 million movie is, in fact, a weird hybrid of action juggernaut, buddy cop caper and reactionary soft-core pornography. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll exult in the blood of your enemies. But most of all, you'll marvel at Curtis's bountiful bazooms. Of course, as ever in the Schwarzenegger oeuvre, there is a deeper meaning as revealed in the following discourse:

"Have you ever killed anyone?" asks Helen Tasker (Curtis) upon learning that her husband, Harry, is not a plodding salesman as she thought, but a dashing spook. "Yah, but dey ver all baahd," explains Harry, who has managed to keep up the ruse for the past 15 years. Helen is furious about the deception, so Harry must save not only the world but his marriage. This involves a mean-spirited series of events that leave her humiliated and Harry's sexual rival mortified.

Typically, Cameron's heroines tend to be resourceful sorts -- Linda Hamilton in the "Terminators" and Sigourney Weaver in the "Aliens" -- especially in defense of their young. But both the heroine and the villainess (Tia Carrere) are shabbily treated here. Carrere, who supplies nuclear arms to a pack of Islamic fruitcakes known as the Crimson Jihad, is smacked around by the group's rabid leader, Aziz (Art Malik), while Curtis's Helen is literally prostituted by her husband.

Duped by Harry into thinking she is on a secret mission, Helen sets out for a hotel dressed in her idea of a sexy cocktail dress -- ruffled but conservative. When she learns that she must pretend to be a prostitute, she rips off the ruffles, and the rest of the dress soon follows in a grotesque sequence that the filmmakers apparently thought was funny.

In a ludicrous twist, Harry, disguised as her john, realizes that the soul of a topless dancer lurks within the little woman. Thankfully Aziz and his followers break in on the pair before Schwarzenegger can pucker up for one of his rhinocerotic love scenes.

This strange and flabby digression gives way at long last to the flashy business of slaughtering those dang Arabs. Now hunkered down in the Florida Keys, the terrorists are threatening to blow up the U.S. of A. when Harry, Helen and Harry's wisecracking sidekick (Tom Arnold) turn a mess of them into camel burgers. And after all that, there are two more endings to go.

"True Lies," far too technologically bloated for its cartoony plot, overestimates the human tolerance for high-tech mayhem. I mean, really, how many explosions can a body take? How many pounds of shattered glass? Even fans of this jokey genre are apt to overload on the juvenile high jinks and the patented macho catch phrases. Hasta la vista, you big overgrown baby.

"True Lies" is rated R for violence, profanity and Jamie Lee Curtis's thong bikini.

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