The Invention of Lying
Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas
One of the great precepts of movie making, other than the ubiquitous “dramatic license,” is “suspension of disbelief.” Which basically says you can believe what’s being told even thought its not real. Sometimes this really works like a charm, as in the play or film Harvey, or the film Being John Malkovich.
The new release The Invention of Lying asks the viewer to accept there’s an alternative universe, contemporary in nature, in which people never lie. They always tell the complete, honest truth. As we all know from day to day living, that’s harder to accept than the premise that one can access John Malkovich’s mind from a small door in the office of a puppeteer. One day, a scriptwriter discovers that he can change lives by telling a lie, and begins to make great use of his newfound talent.
Sounds promising in theory, but the execution is not a particularly good way to spend an evening at the movies. Ricky Gervais, who gained worldwide fame from creating the TV series “The Office” in England, makes his leap to full-fledged big screendom. He co-writes, co-produces, co-directs, and stars in The Invention of Lying. Unfortunately, he’s wearing so many hats, none of them fit well.
Intended to be a romantic comedy, it’s too dull to be either. Jennifer Garner plays Gervais’ love interest. Her character is so uninteresting that it’s a mystery why he would want to be hopelessly enamored of her.
Her primary concern in life is meeting her perfect genetic mate in order to produce perfect children. Naturally, she constantly rebuffs Gervais, as he is short, chubby, and not attractive. But once he starts telling lies, which everyone believes, and things start happening, he hopes to woo her over.
The plot veers from lie to joke to sentiment with the same stop-start motion you may feel if teaching a beginning driver how to operate a manual transmission.
Also in the cast is Rob Lowe, trying to make the most of his snarky personae from Wayne's World, but only succeeding in being annoying and unfunny. And Tina Fey has a role so small and useless that your Uncle Fred could have done the same character to the same effect. There are unannounced cameos by Jason Bateman, Edward Norton, and even Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman, which help, as they are the real funny parts of the film, but even they can’t pull it all together.
The real tip-off as to how much The Invention of Lying did not work for me is this: I saw it at 10 am, in a sparsely-attended cinema, and had already had my coffee… and still managed to nod off for a couple of minutes about half way through. That is not the sign of scintillating cinema.
I like imagination and whimsy as much as anyone, but the characters and premise are so cold, scattershot, and stultifying, it’s hard to fathom how the producers came up with the financing to get it made. Of course, as they say, “no one ever intends to made a bad movie,” but it happens. It happened with Mchale's Navy Joins the Air Force. It happened with Ishtar. And it’s happened again with The Invention of Lying. And that’s the truth.