The Invention of Lying
dir-scr Ricky Gervais, Matthew Robinson
prd Ricky Gervais, Dan Lin, Lynda Obst, Oly Obst
with Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Jonah Hill, Louis CK, Jeffrey Tambor, Fionnula Flanagan, Rob Lowe, Tina Fey, Donna Sorbello, Stephanie March, Jimmi Simpson, Nathan Corddry
release US/UK 2.Oct.09
09/US Universal 1h39
The Invention of Lying
To be perfectly honest: Garner and Gervais

hill lowe fey
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The Invention of Lying As bright and witty as this film is, it never quite generates enough momentum to be a comedy classic. It feels more like a gently meandering movie version of a high-concept sketch. At least it's peppered with sharp gags.

In an alternate reality in which humanity hasn't developed the ability to lie, Mark (Gervais) is a loser who accidentally discovers dishonesty and quickly realises the power of his words in a world where everyone believes him. Lying his way to fame and wealth is easy, but things start to spiral out of his control when people develop a religion based on his tall tales. And his biggest problem is that he wants Anna (Garner) to fall in love with him. But lying to her would be cheating.

Allegorical elements add some intriguing subtext (although Monty Python addressed the same issues with Life of Brian 30 years ago), but Gervais and Robinson have a too-light touch, centring on set pieces that are goofy and amusing but don't dip too far beneath the surface. Essentially, the one joke is that people speak the cold, brutal truth in nice, matter-of-fact ways. And the simplistic observation is that, even if you could get all the money and sex you wanted, it's more fun to help people.

There's still plenty to enjoy, from Gervais' offhanded and charming performance to the strong supporting cast, including hilarious small roles for Lowe and Fey plus terrific cameos by Jason Bateman, Christopher Guest and other Gervais stalwarts. But with an approach this thin, there's not much the filmmakers can do with the characters. They all seem a bit cartoonish, and most of the actors seem to be waiting around for Gervais' next routine.

So it's strange that, rather than accelerate the comical potential (or dip further into the fantasy), the film instead turns to sappy sentimentality for its final act, getting increasingly serious-minded. We know from the start that Anna will eventually realise that wants to have short, fat kids, so her protests get somewhat tiring and her big moment of understanding feels cheap. There are plenty of solid laughs along the way, but Gervais should have been much bolder with the idea.

cert 12 themes, language, innuendo 23.Sep.09

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall