Mark Reviews Movies

THE INVENTION OF LYING

2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Directors: Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson

Cast: Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Jonah Hill, Louis C.K., Rob Lowe, Jeffrey Tambor, Fionnula Flanagan, Tina Fey

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for language including some sexual material and a drug reference)

Running Time: 1:40

Release Date: 10/2/09


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Review by Mark Dujsik

There are many things going for The Invention of Lying. It is very funny, lets its premise run without compromise, has a big list of quality, recognizable cameos, is surprisingly provocative, and possesses courage of its convictions.

It's a fable that takes place in a world where people have evolved with the trait of saying the entirety of what's on their mind. I mean, the very meta opening narration (commenting on how no one reads the credits, especially the first few business-minded ones of people who just want to see their name on screen) tells us that people have evolved to never lie, but telling the truth and not lying are two different things.

But I digress into pointless nit picking. Let's just go with what our narrator tells us: It's a world where people cannot lie. He also tells us to look forward to the moment when someone does.

That someone is Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais), a screenwriter for the company Lecture Films, a studio whose motto is, "We film someone telling you about things that happened." The studio divides its writers into different centuries of history, and Mark has the misfortune to be screenwriter for the 14th century. He was convinced audiences would embrace a film about the Black Death, a misconception his boss (Jeffrey Tambor) would rub in his face if his boss weren't so nervous about firing Mark.

That doesn't mean other people can't point it out, including Mark's screenwriting rival Brad Kessler (Rob Lowe) and his secretary (Tina Fey).

Fire Mark, the boss does, though, which leaves Mark with the future prospect of living homeless (One such soul carries around a sign reading, "I don't know why I'm homeless and you're not"). He's also distraught over a bad first date with Anna (Jennifer Garner), a woman he's had a crush on for years, who sends him an e-mail saying she's not attracted to him in the slightest. This is actually the nicest thing she says to him since their date.

Mark has a spark of innovation while at a bank and tells the teller that he has $800 in his account. When the system shows he only has $300, the teller is convinced it's an error on the computer's end, because after all, no one in this world says something that isn't.

Thus begins Mark's journey into the brave new world of lying. The script by co-directors Gervais and Matthew Robinson indulges in Mark's discovery in enjoyable and recognizable ways. He learns he can get whatever he wants when the rest of the world is completely gullible, but he also learns the balancing act between lying for personal gain and helping others.

He manages to convince a woman to go with him to a motel ("A place where you have sex with a near stranger"), because if she doesn't sleep with him, the world will end. He discovers the art of fiction by faking a found historical document that tells the story of the Great Ninja War in—conveniently for him—the 1300s. He also finds a way to make his mother's (Fionnula Flanagan) departure from the mortal coil more bearable after her years living in "a sad place for hopeless old people."

This is a strange turn of events for a movie that has such a minimally edgy but overall cheerful tone. It quickly shoots from its relatively innocent potshots at advertising (the Coke and Pepsi ads are quite funny in a world where no one lies), the inner thoughts of a cop (an inspired cameo by a mustachioed Edward Norton), and other such satirical observations into a pretty aggressive polemic on religion.

To its favor, the movie doesn't make concessions on the issue, but it's out of tune with the rest of the movie and lets loose its punches in uninspired ways (There's a man in the sky who watches everything you do, when you die, you'll get a mansion, and other such laws are written on tablets of pizza boxes, and later, Mark appears in the oh-so-obvious look of a bed sheet with a long beard).

As this progresses, the movie focuses the rest of its energy on the typical romantic comedy angle of teasing us with whether or not Mark and Anna will get together and giving him some romantic competition in Brad.

The Invention of Lying is, as I started, quite funny, but its later digression in tone and reliance on formula are alternately incompatible and lesser than what comes before it.

Note: In addition to Norton, be on the look out for Philip Seymour Hoffman as a naïve bartender, Christopher Guest as a famous narrator, and Jason Bateman as a doctor with absolutely no bedside manner.

Copyright © 2009 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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