An unfunny waste of 90 minutes
Review: 'Liar' is bad, and that's the truth
By Paul Tatara
(CNN) -- If you're looking for laughs, don't go see "Big Fat Liar." You won't find many.
The movie stars Frankie Muniz as Jason, a scheming 14-year-old whose stolen English essay turns into fodder for an upcoming summer blockbuster with the movie's conniving producer taking story credit. This leads to an adventure in which Jason gets to fly to Los Angeles and gawk at palm trees from the comfort of a luxury car, drink free Coca-Cola (with the logo carefully aimed at the camera) and hide out for a few days in a fun-filled Universal Studios prop building.
The overall effect is less like a children's movie than a recruitment film for future Hollywood sellouts.
Jason, as embodied by the perpetually eager-to-please Muniz, is a theoretical construct designed to set preteen hearts palpitating. He sports all the earmarks of modern coolness, including pristine skateboarding technique, a great digital game box attached to the TV in his room and the charm to repeatedly address his teacher by her first name and get away with it.
This kid lies so much, his classmates can do little more than shake their heads and marvel at his beguiling sense of spontaneous invention.
After getting caught in a lie -- in which he contends that he couldn't finish an important essay because his dad (Michael Bryan French) choked on a Swedish meatball -- Jason is forced to hand over the assignment in three hours or face the very uncool prospect of summer school. Out of desperation, he writes a story called "Big Fat Liar," about a teen-ager much like himself who watches a fib spin out of control until it ruins him.
While rushing to school to deliver the paper, Jason slams his bike into a limousine containing Marty Wolf (Paul Giamatti), the previously mentioned Hollywood slime ball. Jason is grudgingly given a ride to class, but, as luck would have it, he drops his paper, and Wolf ends up with the can't-miss story treatment he's been looking for.
A few months later, Jason and his friend, Kaylee (Amanda Byrnes), see a trailer for a movie called "Big Fat Liar," a Marty Wolf production. This is fairly amusing, since the trailer is constructed exactly like the ones you see every time you go to the theater, with inappropriately portentous narration and enticing special-effects shots.
Then the amusing stuff ends, and you're stuck with Muniz pulling unremarkable pranks while Giamatti throws bug-eyed fits.
Not the least bit real
Jason, who lives in a world of astonishing convenience, gathers up his lawn-mowing money and flies to California, with Kaylee in tow, to extract a confession from Wolf. Jason and Kaylee manage this little stunt because their parents are out of town, and Kaylee's Grandma Pearl (an actress listed in the credits only as Sparkle) is so blind that she can't detect that a 6-foot-tall male high school football player has been enlisted to pose as her granddaughter. He doesn't even bother to wear a wig.
Once they reach Los Angeles, our heroes stumble onto -- you guessed it -- a limousine driver (Donald Faison) who has his own reasons for disliking Wolf. So he lugs the kids around town for free. (Forget Hollywood -- with his kind of luck, Jason should be heading to Vegas.) Eventually, a large group of underlings who have been abused by Wolf join Jason and Kaylee in making Mr. Nasty's life a living hell.
But first, Jason dyes Wolf's skin dark blue and rewires his car's electrical system so the horn honks when he steps on the brakes. Oddly, since you probably haven't laid eyes on him in 15 years, one of the people getting even with Wolf is played by Lee Majors. Bionic or not, he's looking a little paunchy.
"Big Fat Liar" is supposed to be a broadside at devious industry types. But the movie itself is so shrewdly devoid of anything resembling real life, it's hard to determine if you're watching retribution or another dose of business as usual. Director Shawn Levy doesn't need to surprise anyone, so he doesn't. Ultimately, the picture is done in by excessive posing and an overall lack of cleverness. Even easy-to-please kids will know it's not working all that well.
"Big Fat Liar" is completely harmless, if not especially funny. The guy who played Urkel on TV is also in it, appearing as himself and getting mad because he's always pegged as the guy who played Urkel on TV. It's all very postmodern.
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