A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this entertaining thriller combines an action blockbuster (that means lots of big explosions) and a screwball comedy about a married couple who are both hiding big secrets. The wife is contemplating an affair and ends up being pressured to pretend she’s a secret agent, while the husband is the real deal, a suave superspy who has convinced his family that he’s actually a boring computer salesman. Not only does it deliver plenty of excitement, it also has some astute things to say about honesty and ennui in marriage. The wife performs a risqué striptease in her underwear, and there’s a good deal of swearing. Also expect plenty of violence, including gunfights, car chases, some graphic hand-to-hand combat, and even a nuclear explosion.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a dull-as-dishwater computer salesman, or so he wants his wife to believe. In truth, he’s a superspy for the ultra-clandestine Omega Sector, grappling with terrorists by day and then trying to get home in time for family dinner. Problem is, his wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) is so bored with their marriage that she’s contemplating an affair. When Harry finds out, he turns his spy skills to tracking down Helen’s would-be suitor (Bill Paxton, hilarious as a slimy lothario), inadvertently dragging her into his world of covert meetings and international conspiracies.
Is it any good?
TRUE LIES effectively combines a thriller with a domestic comedy, and that’s a tough feat to pull off. The conspiracy plot, about Arab extremists and stolen nuclear warheads, is not especially complex, but it provides a jumping-off point for several exciting chase scenes, shootouts, and major explosions. The more interesting story follows the Taskers, as Harry and Helen learn to share their secrets with each other. Tom Arnold is also entertaining as Harry’s partner, a bitter divorcee with a profane mouth. Schwarzenegger is best-known for his action chops, and rightly so, but he’s underappreciated for his comic skills, and this film lets him show off both skills. And Curtis more than holds her own as a mousy clerk who learns to roar -- and wield automatic weapons. Director James Cameron creates a thrilling story about love, marriage, and honesty, wrapped inside a thrill-a-minute action film. That said, parents may appreciate the messages more than their teens.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about honesty. The main characters lie to each other throughout most of the film. How does their relationship change once they start telling the truth? Do you think it’s plausible for a secret agent to hide his dangerous activities from his family?
How does the film portray terrorists? Made in 1994, after the first Gulf War, but before Sept. 11, the villains are Arab extremists, though it doesn’t identify where they come from or touch on religion. Do you think the media’s views about Middle Eastern militants have changed since then?
Is it acceptable today to demonize people from the Middle East? World War II-era films often made Nazis the go-to bad-guys -- can you think of other groups that have served that role?
- In theaters: July 15, 1994
- On DVD or streaming: May 25, 1999
- Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Paxton, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold
- Director: James Cameron
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Run time: 141 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: a lot of action/violence and some language
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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