Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

LIAR LIAR ** (1997)

Directed by Tom Shadyac. Produced by Brian Grazer. Written by Paul Guay & Stephen Mazur. Photography, Russell Boyd. Production design, Linda DeScenna. Editing, Don Zimmerman. Music, John Debney. Cast:Jim Carrey (Fletcher Reede), Maura Tierney (Audrey Reede), Justin Cooper (Max Reede), Cary Elwes (Jerry), Anne Haney (Greta), Jennifer Tilley (Samantha Cole), Amanda Donohoe (Miranda), Jason Bernard (Judge Marshall Sevens), Swoosie Kurtz (Dana Appleton), et al. A Universal release. 87 min. PG-13.
A little Jim Carrey goes a long way. A lot of Jim Carrey goes a little way. Even just 87 minutes of him. Still, "Liar Liar" has a watcher-friendly , funny premise. I suspect that it is a retread of "Nothing but the Truth," a 1941 Bob Hope vehicle in which Hope, a stockbroker, bets that he can tell just the truth for 24 hours. That was an amusing flick, a remake of a 1920 then a 1929 movie,

Carrey plays Fletch, a trial lawyer without any ethical principles. Lying has become second nature to him and has extended into his personal life too. Somehow this also produces a non-stop joker and jokester in Fletch, whether in public or private life.

The notion that lawyer and liar are not only sound-alikes but synonyms is a perfect one in our days of lawyer jokes as the bashing of lawyers flourishes --and as the lawyers laugh themselves sick on the way to the bank. The device of a parallel plot that involves Fletch's son Max, sweet ex-wife Audrey (Maura Tierney) and her current beau Jerry, is soupy padding. It comes in handy however as Fletch who has promised to be at Max's fifth birthday party, again breaks his word, inventing excuses. When Max makes a wish that his dad tell just the truth for one day, and magically the wish comes true, this sets everything in motion.

To climb the legal ladder and become a partner in his law firm, Fletch tells one and all what they want to hear. He has just taken the case of buxom Samantha's divorce settlement, a serial adulteress who wants half of her millionaire husband's fortune, even though she's not entitled to so much according to her prenuptial contract. Jennifer Tilley plays her like an updated Gloria Grahame, vacuous and with her cleavage seeming to increase by the hour.

Telling the truth may shame the devil but not in this case. It's a mega-case of Liar Liar Pants on Fire. Since the mess it makes of Fletch's life is supernatural, there is no active lesson for the man, no opportunity for examining one's conscience. The plot attempts a Band-Aid treatment to bring this about, a new Fletch --but it is unconvincing.

When the big change hits he had just spent a night with his colleague, the gorgeous Miranda (Amanda Donohoe). "How was it?" she inquires the next morning. "I've had better " he replies, sending Miranda into a paroxysm. Later he explains his reasons to Audrey. He didn't really want Miranda ". . . but she's a partner and I thought I'd help myself by making her squeal. " ( Draw your own conclusions about the PG-13 rating).

That a happy ending will reunite Fletch, his ex and his boy is a foregone conclusion. That the ending would be so dumb (Carrey on a motorized loading ramp chasing a plane on the runway), is cheap stuff. The film's interest, such at it is, is to watch and hear how the lawyer will handle his temporary total inability to lie.

This is accomplished through Carrey's sounding and behaving abnormally, but looking normal in a would-be chic designer suit that's too wide and too padded. Carrey goes through manic displays of behavior, contortions and twists of his elastic frame, twists and grimaces of his rubber face, shouts, groans and the whole lexicon of low, lower and lowest physical humor. He even gives a new dimension to "bathroom humor" when, at the trial, unable to lie, he takes refuge in the men's room where he beats himself up.

In many ways, Carrey's is an anachronistic performance. Here Jim Carrey is blatantly the direct descendant of Jerry Lewis and Red Skelton, yet oddly, while Skelton, Lewis and such are now passe, Carrey is fashionable, at least among viewers who bask in the obvious. This is not to say that there are no funny bits about. But whatever inventiveness there is becomes tedious, monotonous and repetitious.

If only the film had not been so hysterically and totally Carrey-centered; if Carrey had been on Prozac to lessen his manic hyperkineticism; if he had modeled himself partly on the great comedians' (viz. Bob Hope) delicate balance between the normal and the outrageous; the movie might have been a lot more human and a lot less jerky-mechanical.

One reason for my going to this film was to see the talented Swoosie Kurtz in the small part the lawyer for Tilley's husband. I have been waiting forever for her to marry Patrick Swayze and become Swoosie Swayze. One positive result of watching Carrey was to have the importance of big, shiny, obvious teeth brought home again. So I called my dentist for a long overdue cleaning appointment. Really.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel