Last night Fox TV broadcast True Lies, James Cameron’s 1994 comedy/action flick starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as U.S. secret agent Harry Tasker, who thinks his drab legal-secretary wife, Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis), whom he has neglected while performing his duties, is having an affair, when she is actually merely seeking some of the undercover excitement that fills her husband’s daily life. Of course both Taskers get all the excitement they want, and more. The movie is a delight, thanks to the spunky, show-stealing Curtis, who is not only drop-dead gorgeous once her glasses are off. but has exquisite physical-comic timing. Furthermore, Schwarzenegger plays his own role, which could be deadly dull a la Tom Cruise, with comedic panache, detonating the bomb to which the deadliest villain has strapped himself with the vintage Ah-nuld punchline, “You’re fired!”
The most striking feature of “True Lies,” a feature that you used to see all the time in the action films of the 1980s and 1990s, is that the villains are radical Islamic terrorists. Here, they are a group called the “Crimson Jihad,” led by the murderous Salim Abu Aziz (Art Malik), and their aim is, quite simply, to destroy America. In a harangue to his fellow-fanatics, who are about to launch a series of strikes against major American cities, the fictional Aziz blasts the Americans as “cowards” who “bomb their enemies from the air.” Hmm, I thought as I watched the movie on Fox, I’ve heard those very words quite recently. The name of Osama bin Laden came to mind (as did that of Susan Sontag). Indeed, as I watched the Crimson Jihad discuss inept U. S. border security and put together its plot–ultimately foiled by the Taskers–to strike several U.S. urban centers nearly simultaneously, my mind kept drifting to a similar event that took place in real life one sunny September morning seven years after the release of “True Lies.” Life imitated art in 2001, as it does to this day in Iraq, which has become a magnet for every America-despising, suicide-bombing Islamist in the Mideast.
Of course, just as actual Muslim terrorism became an American reality, cinematic Muslim terrorism ground abruptly to a halt, thanks to a campaign to portray the Hollywood film industry as anti-Arab and therefore racist. Cases in point: Jack Shaheen’s book Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Villifies a People, published two months before the planes crashed into the World Trade towers in 2001, and this screed on ABC by Australian Arabic Council founder Joseph Wakim comparing films such as “True Lies,” “Delta Force” (1986), and “Rules of Engagement” (2000) to the supposed anti-Semitism in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”
Hollywood can’t stand to be politically incorrect, so now, in the post-9/11 world, instead of believable terrorists as action-film villains, we have U.S. corporations. That might please the Michael Moore set, but the results have been such clunkers as “I, Robot,” “The Manchurian Candidate,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” and last year’s excruciating Tom Cruise missile, “Mission Impossible II.” Ah, just as life imitates art, art imitates propaganda.