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Coming on the heels of James Cameron's huge Terminator 2:Judgment Day (91), this was a big, slick action adventure in the superspy genre, emulating James Bond but with an American secret agent (Arnold Schwarzenegger). The movie now has an almost prescient quality to it, reflecting the greatest fear of the free world - not just airplanes being piloted into buildings, but terrorists getting their hands on the ultimate weapon and using it - the nuke. The movie was regarded completely differently in the pre-911 mindset: a tongue-in-cheek approach, a parody of the Bond superspy adventure, and it also drew criticism for its perceived caricatures of the villains - terrorists from the middle east. Here we have super agent Harry Tasker (Schwarzenegger) foiling the bad guys with his daring-do, in the middle of addressing his marital problems. Nowadays, we expect real-life versions of Tasker to detect & avert similar real-life threats. If one can get by those few seconds of consternation and forget real life for a couple of hours, the viewer can settle back to enjoy some thrilling escapist fare.
Though described as a parody, director Cameron doesn't let this slide into outright silliness. It may be less a parody and more a copy of the already outrageous Bond films of the sixties and seventies. There's a convincing 'Omega Sector' branch of the U.S.government designed to combat the worst threats, terrorist or otherwise, against the nation. The top agent is Tasker, who begins the film in a typical big-budget action sequence in another country, where he flawlessly employs his espionage skills, as well as mass killing of better-armed opponents, and knocking down Dobermans (some of this also seemed like an homage to the opening scenes of Goldfinger-1964). This secret agency is headed by an older Nick Fury-type played by Charlton Heston. But the picture really kicks into high gear when Tasker detects possible adultery on the part of his frumpy wife (Jamie Lee Curtis), who thinks he's just a boring salesman. Both Cameron & Schwarzenegger show they can be very adept at frothy comedy - in fact, this could be Schwarzenegger's best performance. He will never win acting awards, but the scenes of him doing a slow burn and stalking his wife's potential lover-on-the-side (Bill Paxton - hilarious, as usual) are gems. Also a comical surprise is Tom Arnold as Tasker's partner; he's on the mark in almost every scene he's in - sometimes his inexperience shows, but generally he's a bright spot in the movie.
True Trivia: though this was a remake of a French film called "La Totale!", about a secret agent whose wife thinks he is a telecommunications employee, it very much resembles the Marvel Comics concept of S.H.I.E.L.D. from the sixties, about a top secret law-enforcement organization, including Heston as a Nick Fury-styled agency leader who may have been a top field agent back in the sixties.
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