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Film: True Lies

Helen: Have you ever killed anyone?
Harry: Yeah, but they were all bad.

A 1994 action comedy (bordering on parody) featuring (of course) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Eliza Dushku as their daughter, Tia Carrere as the Femme Fatale, Bill Paxton as a fake spy, and Tom Arnold as Arnold's sidekick. Directed by James Cameron, meaning there are some sweet explosions. While it's hardly high art, it's good popcorn fun, mostly because it can't really decide whether it's trying to be an action movie or a parody of same, and so - possibly due to the infallible combination of Cameron and Schwarzenegger - does both pretty darn well.

Arnold plays Harry Tasker, who his wife thinks is a mild-mannered computer salesman; in truth, he's a top agent for the clandestine Omega Sector, the United States "last line of defense". Helen, played by Curtis, resents the long "business trips" he takes, which make it hard for him to keep his appointments with the family. While Harry is off once more tracking a dangerous terrorist, he learns Helen has been seeing someone on the side—a used car salesman pretending to be a spy.

He uses his agency's resources to teach the other man a lesson—and give his wife some adventure—but when a harmless "assignment" he sends Helen on is interrupted by the dangerous terrorists he was tracking, she finally finds out what he's really been doing on those business trips.

Despite excitement over making a sequel from both Cameron and Schwarzennegger, plans were mired in Development Hell by both Arnold's political tenure and the September 11th attacks; there they eventually died. As an alternative, Cameron is rumored to be adapting it for television.

Based upon the 1991 French movie "La Totale" by Claude Zidi, from which it kept most of the plot, transported it to the USA, and ran it in typical Hollywood style which, honestly, tends to work pretty well for action comedy.


This film provides examples of:

  • Accidental Aiming Skills: Helen's first experience with a Mac-10.
  • Adrenaline Makeover: Helen.
  • Affectionate Parody: Of the Action Movie genre, up to that point in cinema history. Ironically, it's now considered a proper action movie in its own right. Also of Schwarzenegger himself, as well as James Bond movies.
  • Are You Sure You Can Drive This Thing?: When Harry decides to take the Harrier to rescue Dana, Gib is quick to point out that it has been 10 years since he's flown one. It shows in his takeoff...
  • Artistic License: From the many action movie Rule of Cool impossibilities, to having hi-rise buildings in Washington DC.
  • Asshole Victim: See the quote at the top. Given that Harry's under the influence of Truth Serum at the time, he must really believe it. And given that he fights terrorists and trigger-happy enemy agents, it sure seems like it could be true.
  • Automaton Horses: Averted with this line: "Make it quick, because my horse is getting tired." The horse is also highly averse to the notion of jumping off a hi-rise rooftop.
  • Battle Couple: Harry and Helen become this in the film's final act.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted when Helen gives Skinner a good slap, leaving a minute cut on her cheek, since her ring was diamond-side down.
  • Between My Legs: You know what I mean...
  • Big Bad: The Crimson Jihad leader Salim Abu Aziz.
  • Blunt Yes: There's a hilarious example when Harry and Helen are waiting to be executed by the terrorists; Harry explains to her that he's been injected with sodium pentothal, making him incapable of lying.
    Helen: So how do we know if it's working?
    Harry: Ask me something I'd normally lie about.
    Helen: Are we going to die?
    Harry: Yyyyep!
    Helen: I'd say it's working.
  • Bond One-Liner:
    • "Cool off" after giving a mook a swirlie.
    • "You're fired!"
  • Book Ends:
    • "You do not have time to tango!"
    • There's also the opening scene of Harry under icy water, echoed near the end when he's under fiery water.
  • Breaking the Bonds: With handcuffs.
  • Broken Heel: Averted, as Helen simply takes her heels off and goes barefoot.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Simon.
  • Bulletproof Human Shield:
    • Averted. When Aziz walks into restroom with a gun and opens fire, Harry is in a perfect position for this... but instead he just leaves the unfortunate Mook to his doom and leaps for cover very quickly.
    • Played straight later on: "First I'm gonna use you as a human shield, then I gonna kill this guard over there, with the Patterson trocar on the table. Then I was thinking about breaking your neck." Not a straight example, as Harry using the doctor as a human shield was to make the guard hesitate to fire, not soak bullets.
  • Butt Monkey: Gib. Has to improvise and play catch-up when Harry goes off-script. Repeatedly. Gets shot at by Aziz and miraculously survives by hiding behind a lamppost. Gets kicked in the balls by Helen. His long history of failed marriages is played for laughs. He's finally had enough at the end of the movie:
    Gib: You know what? I'm sick of being in the van. You guys gotta be in the van next time. I've been in the van for fifteen goddamn years, Harry.
  • The Cameo: Charlton Heston as Omega Sector boss Spencer Trilby.
  • Can't Live with Them, Can't Live without Them: And, as Gib notes, can't kill them.
  • Cassandra Truth
  • Cat Fight
  • Catchphrase: "Sorry!"
  • Chase Scene: Harry trying to chase down the film's villain.
  • Cool Plane: A Harrier jet.
  • Creator Cameo: Director James Cameron can be heard as the helicopter pilot who says "Oh yeah, she's got her head in his lap. Yahoo."
  • Da Chief: Spencer Trilby, head of Omega Sector played by Charlton Heston. Heston asked James Cameron why he cast him and his answer was "I need someone who can plausibly intimidate Arnold Schwarzenegger."
  • Damsel out of Distress:
    • Helen, for the entire movie, just shy of being an Action Girl. The first and biggest example? During the initial raid, while Simon is pleading and crying, she almost gets away from the trained operatives twice, by a well-placed knee to Gib and biting Harry. Then, she almost spoils the following interrogation by breaking the glass with her stool. Later, she beats Harry to near-unconciousness with a telephone, almost knocks him out later, and almost turns her Designated Girl Fight into a Curb-Stomp Battle with a champagne bottle.
    • It also seems to run in the family. Dana, her daughter, when faced with the entire rogue faction, not only manages to get away, she also swipes the nuke ignition key, and keeps it for the entire climax.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: Aziz is smart enough that once the nuclear device is armed, they bury it in concrete. Disarm that!
  • Deadfoot Leadfoot: The limo at the end.
  • The Deadliest Mushroom
  • Dead Man's Trigger Finger: During the bathroom fight Harry shoots one of Aziz's mooks several times in the chest in the middle of wrestling with the other one for control of the gun. The shot mook spastically lets off a burst from his submachine gun that goes nowhere important.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Gib
  • Death Glare: In addition to the Kubrick Stares listed below, the car salesman gets this when Harry bursts into his hideaway and sees him apparently shtupping Helen. It's even more effective for Ahnuld being in a ski mask, since the viewers can just see his gritted teeth and staring eyes.
  • Description Porn: Harry's description of the Soviet MIRV-6.
  • Designated Girl Fight
  • Did the Earth Move for You, Too?: Harry and Helen make out to the backdrop of a nuclear explosion. And it is awesome.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: When Helen is "arrested" by what is actually Harry's squad for cheating on Harry with Simon, she's given a choice: Work for Harry's "agency", or:
    Harry: You will go to a federal prison. And your husband and daughter will be left humiliated and alone. Your life will be destroyed.
    Helen: (sarcastic) Oh gee, lemme think.
    Harry: Yes, or no?
    Helen: Of course, yes.
  • Dramatic Deadpan: Harry telling how he'll kill everyone in the Breaking the Bonds scene.
  • Dramatic Shattering: Harry smashes his van window when Gib refuses to give him the tenth page of the transcripts between Helen and Simon.
  • Enemy Rising Behind: Behind the Big Bad, outside the skyscraper's windows, Harry rises piloting a Harrier jet.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: And so are snowmobiles.
  • Evil Pays Better: Juno Skinner is Only in It for the Money:
    Harry: Now why are you helping these raving psychotics?
    Juno: Because they're very well-funded raving psychotics.
  • Expy: The director of the Omega Sector, Spencer Trilby (Charlton Heston), was based upon Marvel Comics character Nick Fury. Both have eye patches, they have similar personalities, and both are leaders of an elite spy agency.
  • Eyepatch of Power: It is automatically clear that Spencer Trilby (Charlton Heston) is a badass even though he just sits at a table and talks, because he is played by Charlton Heston...and because he's wearing an eyepatch.
  • Eye Scream:
    • "...then I'm gonna kill that guard over there with that Patterson Trocar on the table..."
    • Charlton Heston's makeup is detailed enough that it's clear whatever's under his eyepatch is quite a scary sight.
  • Firing in the Air a Lot: The Terrorists' celebration when they are arming the nuke.
  • 555: The phone number of Monument Taxi is either 555-2439 (which is on their sign and stickers) or the 800 number written elsewhere on the vehicle.
  • Flamethrower Backfire: Harry improvises a flamethrower out of a fuel truck, but his nemesis shoots the fuel truck...with a rocket propelled grenade.
  • Follow the Chaos: When Gib sees the smoking ruins of the island compound where Harry was being held, he comments to the latter "I thought this looked like your work."
  • For Halloween, I Am Going as Myself
  • The Foreign Subtitle: True Lies: The Pretender in France.
  • A Glass in the Hand: While watching Simon, the slimy used car salesman, Harry grips the binoculars hard enough to break a lens.
  • Government Agency of Fiction: Harry works for the Omega Sector, an elite intelligence/counter-terrorist agency whose very existence is kept secret from the public.
  • Gratuitous French: "Who wrote this shit? Harry? C'est de la merde!"
  • Guns Akimbo
  • Groin Attack:
    • The only time you'll feel sympathy for Aziz is when he flies hard into the tail of the Harrier and is hit in the family jewels.
    • Helen also pulls one off in the kidnapping sequence. On Gib.
  • Gunship Rescue: Harry in the hover-capable Harrier fighter.
  • Headphones Equal Isolation:
    • Harry tries to stop Dana, whom he caught stealing cash from his wallet, as she runs off with a boyfriend. She completely ignores him as "Sunshine of Your Love" is blaring on her headphones... and, y'know, because she didn't want to be stopped and caught.
    • The music-loving janitor is unaware of the conflict outside until the jet crashes through the window.
  • Hell Hotel
  • Homage: The opening sequence features Arnold coming out of some water in a wetsuit, then shrugging it off to reveal a black tuxedo underneath. Now, what other superspy has done that...
  • Horse Jump: Subverted when the horse balks at the edge and pitches Harry over the saddle.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Every insult Juno hurls at Helen would be more appropriate if used against Juno herself. Apart from the "Suzy Homemaker" quip.
  • I Have Your Daughter
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Played for laughs when the fat Gib hides behind a lamp post while being shot at with an AK-47, and remains unharmed, despite everything behind him being hit. Even he can't believe it.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills
  • Indecisive Parody: Either a 90's action comedy, or a parody thereof.
  • Indulgent Fantasy Segue: Tasker smashing in Bill Paxton's face.
  • Instant Thunder: At least partially averted. The atomic blast is seen long before we hear it, but since the "minimum safe distance" is stated to be 12 miles, it should've taken at least a minute for the sound to be heard.
  • Invincible Hero: Considering this is an Arnold movie, subverted, especially since Jamie Lee Curtis beats him to near-unconsciousness in one scene, and later decks him hard.
  • Just Plane Wrong: Harriers are not designed to hover that long, are not bulletproof, and would be un-flyable if it got its instrument panel shot up like it did. More than justified, however, by Rule of Cool.
    • A particularly grievous case of Artistic License - Physics — putting aside the technical shortcomings of the AV-8B "Harrier II", shown in the film, any V/STOL jet aircraft that hovered for as long as the film's climax would probably have burst into flames from overheating.
  • Karmic Death: Juno gets hers when the limo falls off the recently destroyed bridge after the scuffle between her and Helen.
  • Kill It with Fire / Aerosol Flamethrower: Harry turns a fuel truck into a flamethrower by shooting the end of the hose.
  • Kubrick Stare: When Harry finds out his wife is cheating on him, he gives her one of these during dinner.
  • The Last Straw: A teetering car goes over the edge thanks to a bird landing on the hood.
  • Law of Inverse Recoil: Averted with Helen.
  • Lethal Klutz: Played for laughs when Helen accidentally kills a group of terrorists while trying to fire an uzi to save Harry. The recoil causes her to lose control and fumble the weapon, sending it tumbling down the stairs in a slow-motion montage sequence where it continues to fire, taking out several mooks.
  • Let's Get Dangerous: Faisil, the geeky junior agent, gets to have a moment of true bad-assery. Faisil is skinny, inexperienced, geeky, and absolutely the type of character who usually ends up a Sacrificial Lamb. He ends up taking out two of the terrorists by himself in a smooth bit of gunplay that ends with him blowing across the end of his gun, James Bond style after walking into the terrorist's den disguised as a TV cameraman.
  • Lip-Lock Sun-Block
  • Little Black Dress: Double Subversion. Helen's dress is horribly out of date (which is against the purpose of the dress), but then she rips off the frills when she sees that is the case, making the dress fit properly.
  • Masquerade
  • The Masquerade Will Kill Your Dating Life: One of Helen's reasons for dating Simon. She quickly comes back when she realizes who Harry really is.
  • Mating Dance: The tango scenes, which was actually an attempt by secret agent Harry Tasker to evade the bad guys despite his flirtatious banter with Juno (because they couldn't shoot him in a room full of people). Harry's partner puts it quite succintly after he's done dancing with her that she's ready to have his kids.
  • Missing Backblast: Averted, when one of the terrorists fires a Stinger shoulder-fired anti-air missile from a moving panel truck, causing no end of havoc (his comrades even knew it was coming).
  • Mission Control: Tom Arnold's character.
    "Y'know what? ...I'm sick of being the one in the van. You guys are gonna be in the van next time."
  • Mood Whiplash: One of the best comedic moments in the film is probably the "Battery, Aziz" scene - Aziz is making an angry and frightening threat video, when the camcorder runs low on battery. The cameraman lowers the camera, looks pained and apologetic, and explains "battery, Aziz!" Aziz stares at him dumbfounded and coolly rages "...get another one, you moron!" Aziz gives him the "shh!" effect when he tries to apologize further and explain how quickly he can start filming again.
    Battery Mook: I think I have another one, in the truck.
  • Ms. Fanservice:
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: The Crimson Jihad.
  • Nebulous Evil Organisation: The Crimson Jihad is a terrorist group that is considered vicious and brutal even by Islamic Terrorist standards.
    Faisil: Now he's formed his own splinter faction called Crimson Jihad.
    Gib: Yeah, I guess he thought the other terrorist groups were a little too warm and fuzzy for his tastes.
  • Neck Snap
  • Never Forgotten Skill: Double Subverted and Played for Laughs. When Gib says Harry can fly a Harrier jump-jet, despite reportedly not having touched one for fifteen years. For extra points, he says this to the actual pilot of the Harrier. Harry has some trouble at first, crushing the roof of a police car with his nose gear ("Sorry!") and sending the onlookers scrambling for cover with his thrusters, then gets the hang of it and heads off for Miami.
    Harry: If I break it, they can take it out of my pay.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Harry has to do this several times, but it borders on ridiculous when he calls a nuclear warhead an espresso machine, a snow-cone maker, and a water heater in succession just to keep his (obviously blown) cover in front of his wife. He was probably also doing it to annoy his captor.
  • Oblivious Janitor Cut: The Janitor doesn't notice the jet flying around outside until it crashes into the window.
  • Offhand Backhand: Henry uses this to kill a guy he's riding in a car with.
  • Oh Crap:
    • Juno says "oh, SHIT!" when she realizes the limo is about to fall into the ocean after the bridge has been shot out.
    • The Mook who is looking out of the window with a pair of binoculars looking for Harry's Harrier jump jet: nothing... nothing... nothing... "oh hey look there's a grey thing blocking my vis... oh, FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!!"
    • The look on Samir's face after Harry reveals that he's picked the lock on his handcuffs and shows him, says it all.
    • Then there was the much-abused terrorist panel truck balanced on the edge of the broken bridge. They balance it out and start celebrating ... then a pelican lands on the hood of the truck.
  • Only in Florida: The bridge that gets blown up by the fighter jets is the original 7-Mile Bridge that linked the Florida Keys to the mainland. It was replaced by a newer bridge back in the 80s and had already been cut into pieces to allow sailing ships through-ways. Several sections of the old bridge are now used as fishing piers, and the rest are being allowed to fall apart to form artificial reefs.
  • Only in It for the Money: Juno Skinner states that she's only aiding the terrorists because they're paying her an enormous amount of money for her assistance in their scheme, as she cares for neither their goals nor those of Harry's team. This includes enduring slaps to the face.
  • Papa Wolf: When his little girl is kidnapped, Harry borrows the aforementioned Harrier Jet to rescue her and face the Big Bad.
  • Parting From Consciousness Words: When Aziz's men tranquilize Helen. "That hurt, you ba--" *clunk*
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Harry at least believes to only have killed people who deserved it.
  • Pin-Pulling Teeth: Harry does this with the grenade he uses as the opening shot of a huge firefight at the enemy's hideout after escaping from being captured.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: It's a Schwarzenegger film, so it has a number of them, including "You're fired" when shooting the Big Bad from a missile.
  • Pretty in Mink: Several furs are worn in the background of a few scenes.
  • Precision F-Strike: "I was reckless and I was wild, and I fucking did it!"
  • Product Placement: Canon camera with a gun in it. Part of a chase scene happens in a Marriott hotel. Also, when transiting back to Washington DC after the infiltration in Switzerland, the footage of the landing plane is of an American Airlines plane (the AA logo is not shown, but the fuselage stripes are a giveaway).
  • Prove I Am Not Bluffing: The Crimson Jihad set off one of their nukes in the Florida Keys as a demonstration.
  • Punctuated Pounding:
    Helen: NO! I DID (slams glass) NOT (slam) SLEEP (slam) WITH HIM!!! (slam slam)
  • Rated M for Manly: The last hour of the film.
  • Red Baron: The terrorist leader Salim Abu Aziz is known as the "Sand Spider". When Spencer Trilby asks why he's called that, Faisil responds "Probably because it sounds scary."
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns: Helen attempts to use a MAC-10 machine pistol and promptly loses control of it and drops it down a flight of stairs, where it continues firing all by itself as it tumbles down, taking out nearly every mook in the terrorist camp. Also the Accidental Aiming Skills.
  • Renegade Splinter Faction: The Crimson Jihad to a larger, unnamed terrorist group. Unlike other examples of the trope, the point here is to show that Aziz was even more fanatical than other fanatics:
    Gib: Guess he thought the other terrorist groups were too warm and fuzzy for his taste.
  • Riding the Bomb: The villain, in quite a phallic manner, as the helicopter carrying it takes off for Miami. Later, he rides a missile.
  • Rip Tailoring: Helen rips off the frilly sleeves of her dress, and shortens it considerably, when preparing to meet a suspected arms dealer.
  • Rule of Cool: Multiple examples, but one that particularly stands out is when Harry is being chased down a hill through trees by guys on skis firing guns (that are held with both hands). While Harry manages to shoot most of them with his Improbable Aiming Skills, they rarely run into anything. However, there is a snowmobile crash, which causes an explosion.
  • Rule of Funny: The above-mentioned incident where Gib hides behind a lamppost and the bullets hit the lamppost, but not him (he checks to make he's completely intact. And several other moments, including the Improbable Aiming Skills moment with the gun bouncing down the stairs.
  • Sarcastic Confession: See Truth Serum exchange below.
  • Searching the Stalls: Tasker hides from a gun-wielding terrorist inside a bathroom stall. The terrorist hoses down the stalls with his machine gun, and begins opening each stall. Before he gets to Tasker's hiding place, Tasker bursts out of his stall and escapes.
  • Serial Escalation: How can we top the previous stunt/action sequence?
  • Shout-Out: When Harry's disguised voice identifies Helen's contact as "Boris" and starts to identify her, she pipes up, "Natasha?"
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss
  • Slipped the Ropes: Harry does this in the interrogation scene, right after telling his interrogator how he's going to kill him.
    Harry: You know my handcuffs?
    Samir: Mmm-hmm.
    Harry: [holds up his hands] I picked them. [proceeds to do exactly what he just said he would]
  • Soft Glass:
    • Several scenes feature this trope, but the best one is when Harry insists that Gibs hand him the missing page of the transcript, and shatters the car window with his bare fist. (Funny story: Ahnold was actually supposed to break a different window, which had been replaced with safety glass. Adds a bit of weight to the look on Tom Arnold's face, when he sees that his co-star just broke a real car window with his bare fist.)
    • Surprisingly averted in the Designated Girl Fight when Helen hits Juno with the Champagne bottle.
  • Spys Suspicious Spouse: Inverted as Harry is the one suspecting his spouse of cheating, while Helen completely believes Harry's cover stories for being gone all the time and never suspects anything odd about it, only frustration that he is gone all the time.
  • Stealth Parody: It's closer to an Affectionate Parody as it gently pokes fun at the excesses of 80's and 90's action flicks while indulging in those excesses itself. Pointed out by a shocked Helen: "My God, I married Rambo!!"
  • Stealth Pun: Probably unintentional, but the song that is used for the tango scenes, "Por una Cabeza", was about a compulsive horse racing gambler and how he compares his addiction to horses with his attraction to women. Not long after that, we have the horse/motorcycle chase.
  • Surprise Vehicle: That Harrier jet again.
  • Tagline: "When he said 'I do', he never said what he did."
  • Take My Hand: How Harry plucks Helen out of the limo speeding off the edge of a blown bridge.
  • Teeny Weenie: When being interrogated by Harry and Gib, Simon confesses that he has to lie to women to get laid because he has a small penis.
  • Throwaway Guns: After the horseback chase, Harry ends up tossing away his sidearm. Off the top of a building.
  • Triang Relations
  • Trailers Always Lie: The original trailer showed Jamie Lee Curtis in an interrogation chamber being grilled about her husband. Not shown: Her interrogator is her husband, and he's more interested in whether she's cheating on him.
  • Truth Serum: Leading to the page quote, not to mention...
    Harry: Ask me something I would normally lie about.
    Helen: ...Are they going to kill us?
    Harry: Yep!
    • Also:
    Harry: First I'm gonna use you as a human shield, then I'm gonna kill this guard over there, with the Patterson trocar on the table. Then I was thinking about breaking your neck.
    Samir: And how are you going to do all that?
    Harry: You know my handcuffs?
    Samir: Hmm?
    Harry: I picked them.
    (Harry proceeds to do exactly what he had just said.)
  • Try And Follow: Aziz jumps from one building to another in a motorcycle. Harry is completely willing to follow, his horse however refuses to do the same.
  • Two Scenes, One Dialogue: When Gib is driving Harry to Juno's office:
    Gib: All right, reality check. Let's go.
    Harry: Hi, my name is Harry Renquist. I own a corporate art consultant company [scene changes to Harry handing his business card to Juno's receptionist continuing the dialogue] in San Francisco and I have an appointment with Miss Skinner.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Subverted in Harry's escape from the Torture Technician.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Twice. Juno Skinner keeps her business card in her bra. Likewise, Helen hides the transmitter bug between her breasts, but quickly loses it when her dancing carelessly puts head upside down off the edge of the bed.
  • We Have Ways of Making You Talk
  • Who Writes This Crap?!: When having a guy record romantic dialog for an apparent sting operation, the agent doing the voice asked who wrote it, and that it's merde.
  • With This Ring: Helen's wedding set does some moving around.
    • First she moves it to the wrong hand because she's playing prostitute in the little scenario Harry set up for her.
    • Then she leaves it there on finding out Harry's been lying to her about being a spy.
    • When Harry makes up with his wife (saving her life will do that), he remarks the ring is on the wrong hand, and puts it back on her left hand.
  • Your Cheating Heart: This drives half the plot of the movie. Harry discovers that his wife has been having an affair behind his back, but it's a subversion. The guy she was "cheating" with is a loser who was trying to get Helen to sleep with him, but she never does. Nonetheless Harry uses his spy agency's resources to bust her in the middle of meeting with the man he thinks she was cheating with, and recruits her (without disclosing his own identity) so she can have some excitement in her life.
  • Zany Scheme

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alternative title(s): True Lies; True Lies
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