FILM / Consider this a disaster: Adam Mars-Jones is stunned by the new Schwarzenegger vehicle, True Lies, 'an explosion in a script conference'

Every now and then there comes a film with the power to bring criticism to its knees, whimpering. Such a film is the opposite of a masterpiece, nothing so humble as a failure but an astounding condensation of everything that can go wrong with a project. True Lies, the new Arnold Schwarzenegger action adventure, is just such a reverse classic or anti-paragon.

Schwarzenegger's most recent film, Last Action Hero, amply acquainted him with grief at the box office. Yet that film's failure was a small thing, a simple matter of not noticing that the sensibilities of The Purple Rose of Cairo and Rambo are not mutually enriching, but cancel each other out. It's a slip any ego-bloated plutocrat could make. The wrongheadedness of True Lies is in a dimension beyond that. Despite an epic budget, it's less a film than an explosion in a script conference, with tatters of genre flying past our eyes in all directions.

To give a small example of the film's incoherence: on her first appearance, the hero's teenage daughter steals money from his best friend. He doesn't get a chance to confront her with her wrongdoing right away, and the life of a modern spy being what it is, the next time they have something approaching quality time is when she has been kidnapped by the Crimson Jihad terrorist group and is clinging for dear life from a crane, the priming key of a nuclear bomb round her neck, while Dad tries to persuade her to drop into the cockpit of a jump-jet he's borrowed. A perfect opportunity, you might think, for some tough love. A good time to murmur wryly, 'Now will you apologise to Gib for picking his pocket? We'll take it out of your allowance and say no more about it.'

But the theft, so important at the time, is never mentioned. Presumably there was some footage shot to elaborate the theme, which had to go in order to keep the running-time down to its obese 140 minutes. Then why not cut the theft itself? Because it performs a function much more important than mere character development, namely hardware introduction. The theft is found out because Dad's sidekick Gib (Tom Arnold) is showing off a gadget that will feature heavily in later scenes, a video-camera concealed in a cigarette packet which relays images directly to the inner surface of Arnie's shades.

True Lies isn't actually a new film but that dreaded thing, a remake from the French. Is there something particularly Gallic about having wish-fulfilment fantasies about perfect spies or assassins, and then lumbering them with dreary emotional problems? There seems to be, judging from La Totale (the original of True Lies) and Besson's Nikita, a reverse classic from a few years ago remade in America to score a double.

I do see that it would be hard to turn down a suggestion from Arnold Schwarzenegger, or even to send food back at his restaurant. But James Cameron, to whom Schwarzenegger brought his idea after seeing La Totale, should have been butch enough to say No. He had most to lose. Schwarzenegger has made plenty of duff films in his time (Commando, Red Heat, the Conan movies . . . shall I go on?), but Cameron's CV, though much shorter, is very impressive. Sure, his Alien sequel coarsened the heroine, turning her from a coincidentally female competent person into a driven adoptive mother. But even his worst film, The Abyss, delivered some classic sequences before it dissolved into New Age noodling. And both Terminators can be enjoyed more than once.

There has been humour in Cameron films, usually grim, but True Lies, to the extent that it is a comedy, is his first. A director with more experience in this line might realise that comedy too has rules, is not just a matter of breaking expectations. No one in their right mind, for instance, would cast Jamie Lee Curtis, Jamie Lee 'what's-a-body-double?' - Curtis, as a dissatisfied wife, costuming her in tasteful cardigans and sullen pearls, giving her glasses, unless they were going to go all the way down the dowdy road so as to reveal her as the new Joanne Woodward.

When Curtis's character starts to loosen up and get sexy, it's no surprise, just proof that her casting against type was a half-hour bluff. It's been obvious from the start that there isn't enough preppy knitwear in the world to hold her back for more than a few minutes from doing erotic dance routines in strange hotel rooms and dangling screaming from helicopters.

In the opening sequence, Cameron presents Schwarzenegger's character, Harry, as a sort of Bond figure, at a swanky reception in Switzerland: frogman suit revealing impeccable evening dress underneath, fluency in many languages - the subtitles tell us in so many words that his Arabic is perfect - stylish tango. Soon Harry is shooting people in batches as they chase him across the snow, faster on foot than they are on skis, and not even out of breath by the time he reaches the getaway van.

Bond heroics look pretty stale these days, but the way to pep them up is not to have Bond lamenting that his wife doesn't understand him - the reason being that he is obliged in the interests of security to bore her with shop talk from a non-existent job. For about five minutes, Arnie gives us his Jealous, when Harry suspects his wife of 'having an affear' (has he even told her he's an Austrian bodybuilder?), but Ian McKellen can rest easy.

Most of the violence in True Lies is sanitised, a matter of people falling down in time to loud noises. But for a single brief sequence a different code applies, and suddenly people are receving scalpels in their eyes or being impaled on hooks and dragged across floors. Cameron seems to have lost all sense of what an audience can be made to care about, a sense that once seemed infallible. In Terminator 2, for instance, he took the risk of staging a nuclear holocaust in the heroine's tormented dreams, and managed to make its sombre horror part of the film's atmosphere. There is a nuclear explosion in True Lies, too, but this one is curiously innocent of shock wave and fallout, despite being produced by a second-hand Russian warhead, and it acts as a backdrop for Harry kissing the wife he thought he'd lost. He shields her dear eyes from the flash with a manly hand. Isn't that adorable?

There are memorable moments in True Lies, but they are laid down in the brain by hysterical giggles rather than pulse-racing suspense: Tia Carrere as the lady baddie rather grudgingly moving her handbag to make way for a nuclear warhead . . . Jamie Lee Curtis dropping her gun down the stairs in such a way that it goes on firing and eliminates 400 terrorists . . . Schwarzenegger, asked by his wife whether he has ever killed anyone, while he is under a truth drug and cannot lie, intoning flatly, 'Yes, but they were all bad', still waiting to be told by his director if this is a comedy moment or one of its deep-human-communication- between-a-man-and-a-woman moments . . . the list goes on.

In the whole mess, only Tom Arnold gives anything like value, perhaps because sidekick is well-mapped territory and he stays well inside it. In all other respects, True Lies gets the internationally recognised critical rating of TURKEY (Totally Unnecessary Rubbish - Klose Eur Yse).

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

booksReview: Lena Dunham, Not That Kind of Girl
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments