Reviewed by: Brett Willis
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Art Malik, Tia Carrere, Eliza Dushku | Director: James Cameron | Producers: James Cameron, Stephanie Austin | Exec. Producers: Lawrence Kasanoff, Rae Sanchini, Robert Shriver | Assoc. Producer: Pamela Easley | Screenwriter: James Cameron, based on the French film La Totale! written by Claude Zidi, Simon Michaël and Didier Kaminka | Released By: 20th Century Fox
Here’s a cross-genre film with a little bit of everything. Directed by James Cameron, featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and boasting the film industry’s first $100 Million budget, we’d expect it to be a splashy action film with a strong female character and political overtones. It’s all of that, yet it isn’t typical Cameron work.
In the opening sequence, American secret agent Harry Renquist (Schwarzenegger) and his team steal computer files from a billionaire who is known to bankroll Arab/Muslim causes. Harry has to shoot his way out of the billionaire’s mansion, in a snow/skiing scene reminiscent of the James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. In fact, the romancing of a beautiful enemy and the slightly-comedic flavor of the violence give the impression that the entire film is done in a Bond mold.
At home (when he IS home), Harry is Harry Tasker and is known to his wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) and teen daughter Dana (Eliza Dushku) as a boring computer salesman. He was a spy before being married, so his entire family life has been a lie.
Believing that four nuclear warheads have been bought from the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan and may be in the hands of terrorist Salim Abu Aziz (Art Malik, “City of Joy”), Harry’s team tries to head off a possible attack. Harry plays up to antiquities dealer Juno Skinner (Tia Carrere, TV’s “Relic Hunter”) on the suspicion that she’s somehow helping the terrorists smuggle the warheads into the States.
Content Warnings: There’s an extreme amount of action/violence with massive explosions (including a nuclear one) and creative new ways of killing. Harry does the trick that teens used to do with a cigarette lighter and a can of underarm spray, but he does it with a gasoline tanker. He also rides a horse through a Marriott Hotel and pilots a Harrier jet among skyscrapers. Harry’s team member and buddy “Gib” (Tom Arnold) is the comic relief—a good cop with a filthy mouth and a negative attitude (probably modeled on James Belushi’s character in the 1988 Schwarzenegger film “Red Heat”). No matter how bad things are going for Harry, Gib can always say something to make them seem worse. What a pal. Charlton Heston, in a bit role as Harry’s control, also uses profanity.
Some of the “character arcs” are Helen’s transformation from mousy to bold and self-confident, and the change in the Tasker family from a false relationship to a true and close-knit one. But on the way to becoming bold, Helen is put through a demeaning punishment/test by her husband which includes a striptease. Feminists, who usually rate Cameron’s films very high, gave him a mixed report card on this one. The whole sequence of “testing” Helen is not only offensive, it’s utterly fantastic (Harry is out of character, and endangers his spy operation for a personal vendetta) and unnecessary to the plot.
Although one member of Harry’s team appears to be a Middle Easterner, Arab/Muslim groups denounced this film as stereotyping and inflammatory. They might have a point.
Grain of Truth: Ramzi Yousef, an Osama bin Laden lieutenant, was the external mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (which was designed to topple both towers and spread cyanide gas). In 1994, Yousef was in Kazakhstan trying to buy uranium. The U.S. Government spent hundreds of millions of dollars to buy 1300 pounds of weapons-grade uranium and keep it out of Yousef’s hands. Bin Laden operatives were also thwarted from buying uranium on at least one other occasion. The U.S. counter-measures were called Operation Sapphire.
Followed by: “True Lies 2” (2002)