The Popcorn Reel
Friday, October 2, 2009

Ricky Gervais as Mark Bellison in "The Invention Of Lying", written and directed by Mr. Gervais and
Matthew Robinson.  (Photo: Warner Brothers)

This Pinocchio's Last Commandment: Thou Shall Lie When The World Doesn't

The Invention Of Lying

By Omar P.L. Moore/ SHARE
Friday, October 2, 2009   printer friendly

"The Invention Of Lying", which opened across the U.S. and Canada today, is better as an illustration of August's hysterical town hall meetings on healthcare than as a comedy about deception to simplify and enjoy life.  Ricky Gervais stars, co-writes and co-directs this film with Matthew Robinson, which for more than half an hour tries to survive on the comic smarts and wit of Mr. Gervais alone before tumbling like a house of cards.

Mark Bellison (Gervais) is a screenwriter at Lecture Films and is about to be fired.  He's fed up of hearing the bracing truth spoken to his face in a world that apparently hasn't ever heard of lying before.  Desperate and down following his work exit Mark tries one big fib on, then another, then another.

But alas, his nose doesn't grow any longer.

"The Invention Of Lying" relies chiefly on the stupidity of the American populace depicted in it.  No one asks common-sense or logical questions in this hair-brained comic fantasy filled with a bright-light vacancy and a messianic streak somewhat at odds with the cherubic, everyman style of Mr. Gervais, who was great a year ago in his brilliant debut feature film "Ghost Town".  Here, the story fails because there's nothing for the audience to sink its teeth into.  There's little at stake for any one involved.  Every character whether unassuming or otherwise, is bizarrely plastic.  Jennifer Garner's skills are wasted, just as they were in "Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past" back in May.  (Tina Fey also has little to do here in a small role as Bellison's secretary.)  And no order of cameos by recognizable American actors can save "Invention" either -- cameos that try to hide the fact that here threadbare is very much the comfort zone for Mr. Gervais, whereas his original British television comedy series "The Office" always took chances.  Mr. Gervais knows how to authenticate emotion and despair though, and a subpar Ricky Gervais is still better on most days than many comedic actors.

There have been similar comedies like "Liar Liar", Jim Carrey's 2002 film which begins with Mr. Carrey's lawyer character lying his face off and later telling the truth, the reverse of the arc of Mr. Gervais's character.  "Liar Liar" was pure comic madcap tomfoolery that made for some gutbusting in the aisles.  (Mr. Carrey last year played a man who couldn't help but say yes in "Yes Man".)  "The Invention Of Lying" by comparison, and standing on its own, recycles itself and becomes repetitive when it could have challenged itself by taking its premises and themes that much further, even to controversial effect.  But then perhaps it wouldn't have been a comedy anymore.  Early on there's promise but when the hour mark arrives a movie that should wind down quickly burns out its welcome.

With: Louis C.K., Rob Lowe, Jeffrey Tambor, Jonah Hill, Fionnula Flanagan, Ruben Santiago-Hudson and a few other actors you'll recognize fairly quickly.

"The Invention Of Lying" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for language, including some sexual material and a drug reference.  The film's duration is one hour and 40 minutes.

Related: Omar's unscripted YouTube review of "The Invention Of Lying"

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