- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
icky Gervais may be responsible for some of the funniest television shows of the last decade, but his film career has yet to truly take off. Part of that has to do with his lack of involvement in the projects he’s starring in, because even though “Ghost Town” was infinitely better with the British comedian in the lead role, he’s always excelled best when working under an umbrella of his own ideas. So when it came to “The Invention of Lying,” a high-concept comedy that Gervais not only stars in, but also co-wrote and co-directed, it should have been a homerun. Despite a highly entertaining premise, however, the film fails to live up to the quality of his TV work – partially due to a lack of direction and a final act that feels way too safe for a story with so many big ideas.
Set in an alternate reality where people only tell the truth (even if that means being blatantly rude to others), Gervais stars as Mark Bellison, a “fat and snub-nosed loser” who just wants a fair shake in life. After getting fired from his job and evicted from his apartment, Bellison’s desperate situation results in his telling of the very first lie. Then, his mom (Fionula Flanagan) becomes terminally ill, and in an attempt to comfort her on her deathbed, he makes up a story about the afterlife that the doctor and nurses overhear. When word spreads about his “Man in the Sky,” Mark becomes a global celebrity, but even with all the money and power that comes with his newfound ability, all he really cares about is winning the affection of his dream girl (Jennifer Garner).
As a self-professed atheist, Gervais is clearly taking a few swings at religion by claiming that it doesn’t exist in a fiction-free world, but it’s all done harmlessly enough that it shouldn’t ruffle too many feathers. After all, religion isn’t the only thing with a target on its back, as Gervais also lampoons the movie industry (films are bland retellings of various historical events) and giant corporations like Coke and Pepsi. The possibilities are virtually endless, because as the world exists in the film, people don’t just always tell the truth, they have diarrhea of the mouth. There’s obviously a difference between lying and not saying what you think, and that’s one of the problems with the story. Gervais doesn’t set up any rules for his alternate reality, and as such, characters usually look like complete idiots instead of people who simply don’t know how to lie.
Gervais is always funny in whatever he does, so it’s no surprise that he’s a joy to watch in his latest role, but Jennifer Garner is sublime as the wide-eyed love interest struggling to make sense of falling in love with someone that isn’t her genetic equal. Though it’s exactly this romantic detour that undoes a lot of the great ideas introduced at the start of the movie, Gervais and Garner somehow make it work. After all, for what is essentially a one-joke premise, “The Invention of Lying” is too funny to ignore. It may not be as great as you were expecting, but it’s the kind of film that only gets better with time.
Special Edition Blu-Ray Review:
For a movie that didn’t exactly perform well at the box office, Warner Bros. has put together a pretty strong collection of bonus material for the Blu-ray release of “The Invention of Lying.” Headlining the extras is an alternate opening that takes place in prehistoric times (“Prequel: The Dawn of Lying”) and an accompanying video diary documenting Karl Pilkington’s trip to Boston to appear as an extra in the deleted sequence. Also included is an EPK-style making-of featurette, five deleted scenes, and a short gag reel. You’ll get all of the same material on the DVD version, though, so unless you care about the added incentive of a digital copy, save yourself a few bucks.