'The Invention of Lying'
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
Length: 99 minutes
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner and Rob Lowe.
Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to not deceive. Let's face it: Honesty is brutal.
Enter "The Invention of Lying."
In an alternate reality where mankind has never developed the ability to lie, everything is basically the same. Except for the fact that everybody in the world tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
And Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais) is sick of it.
He gets no respect at his screenwriting job because he's not well-liked enough, and his dating life is floundering because he's not good-looking enough. He knows because he's been told many times.
But when Mark unintentionally says "something that isn't," he discovers the life that's been given to him doesn't have to be that way. Utilizing this new tool of creating his own truths, he quickly improves what was once a dreary existence.
However, even though nobody catches on to his lying, that doesn't make it the answer to everything.
Gervais is a delight as your average schlub who's been given the gift of a lifetime. Rather than simply playing his role as the exact opposite of Jim Carrey in "Liar Liar," he makes Mark a victim of circumstance who attempts to do genuine good with his alternative to truth-telling.
Naturally, the first order of business is making the girl for whom he carries a torch to fall for him. Jennifer Garner does well as vapid beauty Anna, who likes Mark well enough but doesn't want to be involved romantically because of his substandard DNA.
In other words, she doesn't want to give birth to fat kids with snub noses.
Her bluntness is nicer than that of most people in this word, especially Mark's co-workers Shelley (Tina Fey) and Brad (Rob Lowe). Lowe in particular is at the top of his game after a career's worth of playing loathsome characters.
What could be a one-joke idea actually develops further than the simple concept as Mark patronizes a suicidal friend (Jonah Hill), becomes a millionaire in the course of one day, invents religion, yadda-yadda-yadda:
As co-writer/co-director, Gervais has some fine gags, such as the history lesson format of movies - since fiction is a form of lying - and waiters who tell you exactly what they've done to your food and drinks. Surprisingly, he and partner Matthew Robinson steer clear of jokes involving politicians, lawyers and used car salesmen. But even with this steady footing, the film isn't quite as uproarious as it should be.
An Orwellian premise like this could be amazing, and rather than delving into a greater development of Mark's ability to construct his own destiny in a world where even simple things like secrets and exaggeration are nonexistent, Gervais and Robinson opt for the cheaply sentimental approach after a promising setup.
It's still a good watch, but hardly a great one.
"The Invention of Lying" contains a fantastic recreation of the Black Plague, pizza boxes containing great wisdom and a lightning fast car chase scene.
Okay, one of those isn't true, but the only way to find out which is to see for yourself.