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{No audio this week. Having a job in a start-up is interfering with my Internet fame. Go figure.}

The 90s were an interesting time. All sorts of cool things musically were happening in Seattle garages, the United States was emerging as the victor of the Cold War and getting a little blitzed on its own hype as the process, and movie audiences were moving away from the testosterone-fueled somewhat brainless action flicks of the 80s. Sure, years later such movies would be viewed with a kind of smirking nostalgia for their naked machismo, but at the time it was clear that writers, directors, actors and audience members wanted to see something a little bit different up on the silver screen. And if True Lies is nothing else, it’s certainly quite a bit different, for an Arnold Schwartzenegger movie.

Courtesy James Cameron

Harry Tasker is what can only be described as a superspy. He’s a highly-trained, very effective operative working for an unofficial branch of the United States government, hunting down bad guys and uncovering clandestine terrorist plots. He is also, however, a family man, masquerading as a traveling computer salesman for the benefit of his wife and young daughter. Since he’s gone so often, however, his wife is beginning to wonder if he’s being unfaithful to her while she herself staves off the advances of a used car salesman. Harry becomes aware of this and must strike a balance between saving the world and saving his marriage.

This being an action comedy, it doesn’t take a psychic to predict that he’s going to find a way to do both. While True Lies isn’t fueled entirely by contrivance, there are parts here and there that seem awfully convenient for the purposes of our plot. More than once circumstances simply fall together in a way that Harry’s always on top of things. This could be explained away as Harry just being that good as his job, considering this is the Terminator we’re talking about, but even with that excuse the story isn’t exactly setting the world on fire.

Courtesy James Cameron
It’s a good excuse for a badass scene with a Harrier jet, though.

True Lies was directed by James Cameron, the man behind some of the biggest blockbusters of the last few decades, and it might seem odd for the director of high-concept science fiction epics like Terminator 2, The Abyss and Avatar to helm a flick like this. But even directors need to blow off steam from time to time and this feels like Cameron just having fun with one of his exorbidant budgets. It’s possible that he saw the Schwartzenegger action comedy from the previous year, Last Action Hero, and said “You know what? I’m James Cameron. I can make a movie way cooler than this garbage.”

In doing so, he’s created a movie that tends to keep its silliness on the subtle side, rather than the overt genre-savvy deconstruction of Last Action Hero. That movie has a much more interesting concept, but falters in places due to execution. True Lies, on the other hand, keeps its plot and premise simple so Cameron can direct the hell out of it. For all of its insubstantiality, it’s a cleanly shot and polished film, with most of its visuals holding up after over 15 years of life.

Courtesy James Cameron
How effective can your threats be when your batteries run out?

Speaking of looking good, the principles are well-cast even if they’re not pushing the envelope in terms of edgy roles. Arnold and Jamie Lee Curtis do have a good measure of chemistry between them that makes them a couple the audience will want to see stay together. Eliza Dushku plays their daughter Dana in a somewhat understated role that helped open the door for things like Buffy and Dollhouse, while Tia Carrere smolders as the femme fatale. She splits the fanservice duties with Jamie Lee in ways that make themselves apparent with the most cursory Google search. The bit players and bad guys, too, bring just enough weight and dimension to their roles while making it clear that we’re pretty much here for a good time and nothing else. We have some sleazy fun from Bill Paxton as the car salesman, a quick cameo from Charlton Heston and…

well, Tom Arnold’s in this, too. He’s not bad, per se, but some of his motor-mouthed antics can wear out their welcome rather quickly. For every moment we have of him being Harry’s partner and best friend, we have one where he’s throwing his comedic weight around a bit too much. Seeing the natural way Jamie Lee Curtis and Bill Paxton illicit laughs from their scenes while Tom relies on verbal diarreha gives the impression that our large friend is trying too hard.

Courtesy James Cameron
Shut up, Tom. JUST. SHUT. UP.

There are some really neat action sequences in True Lies that ensure the movie is entertaining, if not necessarily fantastic cinema. In the end, it’s a bit like a hamburger from Wendy’s. The meat is of higher quality than some others and you definitely feel like you get your money’s worth, but it’s still not all that good for you. James Cameron at the helm of an action comedy that plays most of its potential moments for satire completely straight would be a bit like Christopher Nolan directing the Marx Brothers. It’s an interesting experiment that looks fine and works fine, but there’s just something off about the whole thing that waters down the overall enjoyment. Of course, if you’re not looking for anything other than basic entertainment to go with a rainy day and a bowl of popcorn, True Lies is a decent choice available on Netflix Instant. Like the rhetoic of certain pundits and religious figures, it tends to be funny in spite of its more serious moments, and the less you think about it, the better it is.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.