It sounds odd that I had never seen True Lies until just a few months ago. I always had a little tinge of interest in it, but until recently, I just never capitalized upon it. I do think James Cameron has done some marvelous work over the years, and it’s nice to see that he did take the chance to do something more fun-filled after a lot of films of thematic heaviness. While I didn’t love True Lies, it does have its great strengths and unfortunate weaknesses wrapped up in a very entertaining spy thriller.
Special agent Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a top spy in the ultra-secret Omega Sector – although to his wife Helen (Jaime Lee Curtis), he’s just a boring computer salesman. When Harry’s two lives unexpectedly collide, both he and Helen find themselves in the clutches of international terrorists, fighting to save not only their marriage, but their lives.
In what I believe is a rare occurrence, I actually agree with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert about this film, in most part. The opening and ending are great, exciting, engaging action excellence, but the middle section is drawn out and throws the film off the rails a little. This is in relation to the entire Bill Paxton segment where Harry Tasker learns that Helen has been seeing another man on the side who feeds her false stories of him being a secret agent. Paxton’s character turns out to be a sleazy used car salesman conning women with his tales of international espionage and intrigue, and Harry proceeds to use his resources to pull one over on the guy while attempting to inject some excitement into his marriage via subterfuge. This segment is not a bad idea, but the fact is that it is dragged out for over thirty minutes and runs through some overly long comedic bits. There is so much that could have been done to chop this down considerably and make it far more snappy and to the point.
I hate to keep being proven right about my reservations about James Cameron’s lax storytelling post-The Terminator, but the evidence keeps surfacing with every film of his I see. When he had a tight, restrictive budget forcing him to be innovative in a constrained run time, he put together a film of tight rhythm and energy. Once he was given larger and larger budgets, and was allowed to indulge himself on screen, he began to slow down the pace of his films with extended second acts that could have definitely been tightened up for a more punchy experience. The other problem with this divergence in focus is that the actual plot with our villains vanishes for the entire time the film is concerned with this marital infidelity plot. With such a thrilling action chase scene to build up the film’s villain, the movie wholly shifts focus away from that plot, and a lot like the T-1000 in Terminator 2, the actual villain is completely absent for most of the second act of the movie. He only reappears when the movie realizes it needs another action sequence. If Cameron could have found a way to keep both the action centric terrorist / secret agent and married life plots going by interweaving them, I believe that would have been great, but it’s ultimately much more compartmentalized until the third act arrives.
Regardless, Cameron is still able to direct some of the best action sequences to date. The opening escape sequence is explosive and smart with the right amount of wit and sly humor. Indeed, I was vastly impressed with the chase sequence that starts off with a public bathroom fight and shootout, and then, sees the film’s villain, Aziz, take off on a motorcycle and Harry pursues him on horseback. They gallop and zoom through Washington, D.C. streets, stores, a shopping mall, elevators, and a high rise balcony. Cameron pushes this sequence to the absolute most fun hilt, and it proves to be very original and imaginative. The climax of the film with the helicopter rescue from the out of control limousine, and then, the fighter jet explosive awesomeness really makes this one of the biggest Schwarzenegger action spectacles ever. These are some of the most incredible action sequences that either James Cameron or Arnold Schwarzenegger have ever been involved in, and they deserve to been seen by any serious action movie fan.
And Arnold Schwarzenegger really does seem to do some of his best, most dynamic work with James Cameron. The two clearly work so perfectly together based on a very trusted friendship and collaboration. This time out, Arnold gets to be more light hearted and fun. Harry Tasker is a clever character who thinks on his feet, and improvises some tight scenarios with suave charisma. By no doubt, there are some James Bond comparisons you could make, but that can be done with nearly any secret agent action movie. Harry’s a light-hearted, caring family man who is not nearly as adept at his home life as he is in espionage.
Jamie Lee Curtis is really fun and solid as Harry’s wife. We get to see her go from this simple, wholesome, innocent woman to a more empowered, assertive character. Yeah, Helen has to liberate herself with a sexy striptease, but it’s really just done in good fun in the film’s context. Helen is attracted to Bill Paxton’s character because he tells her exciting stories of peril and danger, and so, Harry chooses to give her an adventure of her own. Curtis really embraces the role in all its facets giving us a sweet character that is able to rise to the task of danger and peril.
Now, it does seem to take the right director to craft Tom Arnold’s humor down the correct path. Surely, many have found him annoying or obnoxious elsewhere, but he really hits all the comedy beats just right. He never pushes it over the edge, and doesn’t come off like a buffoon, which would have been extremely easy to fall into. Him and Schwarzenegger have very good chemistry playing off of one another lightly and naturally.
On the far more serious side, Art Malik has a great threatening look of intensity to him that perfectly aids him as the film’s villain, Salim Abu Aziz. He’s an excellent fit for this ruthless, violent radical terrorist who consistently proves to be a major adversary to contend with. He truly added the serious counterweight the film required to the light hearted tone it employs throughout. His partner in crime is Tia Carrere’s Juno Skinner, a slight femme fatale that catches Harry’s attention early on. Surely, Carrere has never been a great actress, but she does quite good work under Cameron’s direction being charming and alluring when necessary as well as cutthroat and vile when the facades are dropped.
In some smaller roles, you’ve got Charlton Heston in a solid, brief appearance as the head of Omega Sector baring a nasty scar and eye patch. This sort of shows that True Lies is not taking itself too seriously. It’s allowing a little satire and jokiness to seep into the flavor of the picture. Also, Eliza Dushku appears in an early role as Dana Tasker, Harry and Helen’s daughter, and she does a great job showcasing a lot of tough attitude and dimension she would come to be known for. Everyone in this cast really does a fine, respectable job with Cameron’s material. It’s both a fact of good casting and solid directing.
This was James Cameron’s follow-up to Terminator 2 after he took a few years off, and in that time, visual effects continued to evolve a little. Largely, the digital effects work is very subtle not requiring anything so innovative as a liquid metal cyborg assassin. Yet, it’s interesting to see that today, you’d like see those Harrier fighter jets done mostly as CGI in most shots, but here, we get the real thing on film and it looks exponentially superior to any digital effect. The green screen shots are about as good as they get, and Cameron uses as many practical elements to give the action set pieces a very realistic weight. This is just how digital effects should be used – to aid and enhance the practicals in addition to achieving what little practicals cannot achieve. The use of practical effects adds more realistic weight to everything that I immensely appreciate.
True Lies is a very entertaining film with a fun mixture of concepts that is much lighter than your typical James Cameron fare. I think every idea he had here is solid and when it clicks, it excels beyond expectations. That is essentially the action-centric plot aspects, and while the humor is greatly well done, it dragged down the middle of the film. I honestly feel that humor works best when it’s snappy, sharp, and punctuated correctly. The comedy segments of True Lies are drawn out too long, and diverge the film away from its more exciting aspects. I believe the script could have been tightened up in that second act by shortening some of these sequences, and resulting in a sharper and more to the point second act. I do like the idea of showing the light-hearted suburban home life of this international secret agent, and the fun marital twists and turns that Harry and Helen take. However, I feel the film eventually forgets to meld its ideas together for a long period, and diverges away from the action film aspects for too long. Just when the secret agent plot was getting interesting and truly exciting, it ditches it for a good half an hour.
Regardless, I would still recommend True Lies. As I said, the action sequences are spectacular on every level showcasing the best of what Arnold can do, and demonstrating that James Cameron is one of the best directors of action out there. His dynamic visual style is wonderfully realized by Russell Carpenter’s exceptional cinematography. He didn’t work with Cameron on any other picture, but that would be hard to tell because the film has all of Cameron’s visual signatures. The blue, moody tones and great camera work with excellent close-up shots and push-ins all punctuate what you expect from James Cameron, and Carpenter truly hits it all dead on the mark. There is plenty of entertainment value to gain from True Lies, but even despite the R rating, it’s fairly light on graphic violence. So, in a way it appears more tame than previous Cameron or Schwarzenegger action films, but for the lighter tone used here, it seems more appropriate. As I said, I feel the film could benefit greatly from a tightening up of its humor, or at least, allow the secret agent action plot and the family life comedy to interweave in that second act. As it stands, the film veers off track for a good thirty minutes in the middle, and doesn’t get back on track until the terrorists burst back into the film in a rather unexplained fashion. It’s all good stuff from start to finish, but I just feel it would have worked better in a tighter package.
So, this is the last film in my Thomas Ian Griffith triple feature, and it’s odd that in each successive movie his hair gets shorter and shorter. Also, each of these films have some very impressive names attached to the cast. This time, we’ve got John Lithgow and Donald Sutherland, so, there’s certainly talent on screen worth watching. Hollow Point sees Griffith going pretty crazy with a full charge of charisma in a film I wasn’t expecting to be what it was. Let’s see what it is that it happened to be.
FBI Agent Diane Norwood (Tia Carrere) is ready to do almost anything, even to spoil her own wedding, in order to bring down Livingston (John Lithgow), a major money launderer. In the course of her dogged investigation she runs into the audacious DEA Agent Max Parish (Thomas Ian Griffith) who also wants Livingston. After the two of them reluctantly join forces, they track down Garret Lawton (Donald Sutherland), one of Livingston’s disgruntled hitmen, to help bring him down.
After the conspiracy cop thriller and the Die Hard clone from Griffith, we now get something that tonally veers off in a wild direction. I went into this expecting a fairly serious action movie, but right in the first fifteen minutes, you’ve both Griffith and Sutherland being all kinds of off-the-wall crazy. A Russian Mafioso is smuggled around town, after slipping back into the country, in a casket, and the Max Parish character hijacks his hearse in an effort to interrogate him. In a chase down a stairwell after this, Sutherland’s assassin character Lawton practically cackles and prances around like a nutjob chased by Agent Norwood while Parish rides a window washer’s harness down spouting out jokes. I was laughing my ass off. This is all just plain nuts based solely on Griffith and Sutherland, and this is them just getting warmed up. This is a movie that just knows how to have fun with itself, and I was happy to indulge in it.
Hollow Point ultimately is a buddy cop movie where, absolutely, neither Parish nor Norwood like each other in the least. They are adversarial to the point of sabotaging one another until they reluctantly agree to work together, but even then, they continually butt heads for many reasons. Parish is practically certifiably nuts doing nothing but unorthodox stunts every step of the way, and Norwood feels very dedicated and straight arrow, up to a point. So, it is the classic personality clash dynamic which stirs up friction and entertainment value. Hollow Point is, by very far, no Lethal Weapon, but it’s certainly a whole lot of fun.
As I already touched upon, Thomas Ian Griffith really cuts loose with all of his charisma. Max Parish is ultimately a guy working outside the bounds of the law to his own ends, and so, he’s going for broke at every turn. Thus, he’s greatly unpredictable and spontaneous which facilitates Griffith to throw everything into this performance to make it endlessly fun and exciting. There’s very little opportunity for drama to seep into the Max Parish character as the film really drives for the fun and laughs, but there are a few light, fleeting moments of seriousness that he slips in and out of smoothly.
Yet, as crazy as Griffith is here, Donald Sutherland is full blown whacky. There is not a scene where he isn’t grinning like he’s gotten a snout full of Nitrous Oxide, and just being the nuttiest hitman you’ve ever seen. Sutherland was clearly having an incredibly fun time playing this role with all the eccentricities and flare possible. The flipside of that is John Lithgow doing a fairy straight villain performance, but it’s rather middle of the road. He has lightly humorous moments along with grounded serious ones. After seeing him in both Cliffhanger and Ricochet, I know he can do bad ass bad guy wickedly, but this outing here is nothing special, yet I was glad to have him there. He made the character more interesting and entertaining just by him being in it, and goes the extra mile in the climax.
As you might expect, Tia Carrere is not the most convincing tough federal agent. She certainly plays the role to the best of her ability, and is competent in all the action scenes. However, despite her best efforts, I couldn’t be fully sold on the casting choice. The Diane Norwood role was better suited for someone with more inherent toughness, charisma, and savvy. Sandwiched in between Griffith and Sutherland chewing up scenery with full-tilt vibrancy, Carrere doesn’t really standout at all. She has some decent moments that gain her some credibility, though. Plus, she and Griffith have pretty good chemistry, and she handles the humorous moments sufficiently. I just think there was a stronger casting choice available somewhere for this character, but Carrere’s sex appeal is mildly on display, answering some of the questions of why she was chosen.
The story here is almost unimportant as most of the screentime is really devoted to the buddy cop style antics of Parish, Norwood, and Lawton. Lots of banter, silly moments, and mild scheming to plot against Livingston is all that’s really at play here. Some people want his money for their own gain, and someone else just wants to see him locked up in a jail cell. The movie does not intend to engage you with its story, and rightfully so. Hollow Point is all about its crazy personalities, fun action, and humorous tone.
Even the editing of this movie, with all of its cheesy wipes, goes for the comedy aesthetic, and ultimately, that’s the way you need to take this movie. It doesn’t really push for dramatic storytelling or really intense thrills. It is designed to just have fun with it, and that’s not a surprise from the director of The Taking of Beverly Hills, another B-movie Die Hard clone. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t good action and plenty of explosions. Griffith doesn’t get more than two brief moments of martial arts action as it’s all gunplay and car chases, but the action has some very good production values. The climax really gives you a solid bang for your buck with a lot of fun scenarios, action-packed sequences, and a slightly quirky four-persona standoff. Of the Thomas Ian Griffith movies I’ve now reviewed here with Excessive Force and Crackerjack, this one is the most lively fun, but also, the stupidest of the lot in all the best ways.
Hollow Point just ends up being purely dumb fun that you might enjoy on cable some night. It’s good to have some laughs with and just enjoy the light-hearted action. By no means would this have been a box office success, but it’s perfect direct-to-video entertainment. Since this tightly focused look at Thomas Ian Griffith’s has been about assessing his action star potential, I think the only thing that kept him below the radar and mostly in the direct-to-video world was the quality of the scripts. It would seem like, even with the screenplay he did for Excessive Force, there wasn’t anything strong enough to jump out and grab attention. He also didn’t work with especially talented directors. Van Damme worked with Peter Hyams and John Woo, Steven Seagal worked with Andrew Davis and Dwight Little, Bruce Willis had John McTiernan, Renny Harlin, and Tony Scott, and the list goes on. Griffith got the director of Superman IV: The Quest For Peace and Iron Eagle I, II, & IV. He undoubtedly had every talent needed to be that breakout action movie star with the great martial arts skills, the acting ability to do straight, dimensional drama, charismatic wit, and really light-hearted humor. He had it all, but no one ever paired him up with the right filmmakers to encapsulate all of his potential in one explosive hit. As for Hollow Point, it’s certainly not a good movie, but it entertained me greatly with plenty of laughs. However, I’m eager to get back to reviewing some theatrically released action films.