A reunion of “Terminator 2” star Arnold Schwarzenegger and writer-director James Cameron creates obvious expectations, and this 2 1/2-hour action comedy tries way too hard to live up to them. Providing its share of fun in stretches, pic ultimately overstays its welcome with a level of mayhem that will simply feel like too much for any marginal fan of the genre. “Lies” should prove a big draw initially but will have to hustle just to reach its $ 100 million-plus price tag.
This certainly isn’t the movie Schwarzenegger needed to redeem himself after the disappointment of “Last Action Hero.” Indeed, while not as soulless, “True Lies” shares more similarities to that film than it would care to admit in the overtime department — that is, being overlong, overproduced and over budget.
Such considerations won’t necessarily bother teenagers, but that demographic alone can’t sustain an enterprise like this, and writer-director-co-producer Cameron will doubtless put off more discerning palates with the pic’s sheer bloat.
In its best moments, “True Lies” comes closest to Schwarzenegger’s earlier vehicle “Commando,” which also mixed plenty of humor with a cartoonish level of destruction.
Yet even with its ribald laughs and spectacular action sequences (clearly seeking to up the ante on the latter front), the movie gets mired in a comedic midsection that wears the audience down, sapping their energy before the film shifts to a chaotic third act that just doesn’t know when to quit.
“Lies” is really two movies in one. An impressive Bondian opening sequence introduces us to secret agent Harry Tasker (Schwarzenegger), who infiltrates a heavily guarded compound, mixes it up with partygoers (among them the stunning Tia Carrere) and then beats a sensational retreat.
Tasker, it turns out, leads a double life, having convinced his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) and teenage daughter (Eliza Dushku) that he’s a staid computer salesman. Back in Washington, Harry and sidekick Gib (Tom Arnold) get on the trail of an Arab terrorist (Art Malik) who’s acquired four nuclear weapons. They pursue the felon in an elaborate horse-and-motorcycle chase that careens through the city.
So far, so good, until the script (based very loosely on a French film, “La Totale”) veers into a periodically amusing but staggeringly drawn out tangent that has Harry suspecting his wife of infidelity and using all his agenting wiles to investigate. Roughly an hour long on its own, this foray into romantic comedy offers some crowd-pleasingly broad flourishes — including an over-the-top turn by Bill Paxton — but simply doesn’t jibe well with what precedes or follows it.
Schwarzenegger does get to play a family man as well as a glib action hero, showing off the innate likability that prompts audiences to root for him. Curtis is also provided some juicy moments as the buttoned-up, soon-to-be-awakened wife , while Arnold launches his solo career (assuming that lasts) with a scene-stealing performance as Harry’s affable and foul-mouthed sidekick.
In short, this stew has the right ingredients, and Cameron (to understate matters considerably) overcooks it — bogging down in comedy before offering a barrage of pyrotechnics up to and including a nuclear blast.
Along the way, there’s plenty of jaw-dropping stuntwork, terrific fight choreography and breathtaking use of the Florida Keys as a background locale. But there are also some noteworthy glitches, including easily spotted doubles during a few chase sequences — a minor distraction, yet surprising given the overall technical wizardry involved.
Sets, costumes and production design are all impressive and opulent, and “T2” alumnus Brad Fiedel provides another muscular score in the mode of that earlier effort.
Add it up, however, and the result is 141 minutes of extravagant fodder for an enticing three-minute trailer. And that, unfortunately, is no lie.