Screenplay : Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 1997
Stars : Jim Carrey (Fletcher Reede), Maura Tierney (Audrey Reede), Jennifer Tilly (Virginia Cole), Cary Elwes (Jerry), Amanda Donohoe (Miranda), Jason Bernard (Judge Marshall Stevens), Justin Cooper (Max Reede)
After a mostly unsuccessful attempt to branch out into black comedy with last summer's "The Cable Guy," Jim Carry returns to what he does best -- pure slapstick antics -- in his new film "Liar Liar." While the humor is absolutely hilarious, the sentiment is overly sappy, and several times that conflict risks sinking this otherwise sturdy vehicle.
Carrey plays Fletcher Reede, a habitally fibbing lawyer trying desperately to become partner at his sleazy, big money lawfirm. Fletcher's lying is an everyday part of life, whether that be telling the homeless man on the street that he doesn't have any change or, more importantly, lying to his ex-wife Audrey (Maura Tierney) that he can't come to his son, Max's (Justin Cooper) birthday party because he's caught up with work when he's actually sleeping with the power-hungry boss (Amanda Donohoe).
After being lied to all of his five-year-old life, Max finally makes a wish as he's blowing out his birthday candles that Dad can't lie for twenty-four hours. And guess what? It magically comes true, and the movie is off and running.
Next thing you know, Fletcher can't stop telling the truth, no matter how bad the situation. Half the time his truths come out as insults to others, and the rest of the time he ends up indicting himself (when a police officer asks him why he thinks he was pulled over, Carrey quickly replies, "That depends on how long you were following me," before running down his entire list of traffic violations and admitting a glove box full of unpaid parking tickets).
The first couple of times are the funniest because Fletcher still hasn't caught on to what's happening. So when someone asks him something, and he responds with the often painful truth, the sheer hilarity comes from Carrey's shocked facial expression as he thinks, "I can't believe I just said that!" Once he figures out what's going on, most of the humor comes from his ill-fated attempts to stop himself from talking, most of which lead to Carrey doing something ridiculous such as stuffing his mouth with paper or wrapping his head in a towel.
For a one-joke movie, "Liar Liar" keeps its steam pumping much longer than expected. As the film progresses, the antics get more and more absurb, climaxing in a court room scene where Carrey is trying to defend a shameless adulteress (Jennifer Tilley) trying to get out of her pre-nuptial agreement and take all her husband's money and their children (just so she can get $10,000 a month extra in child support). To do this, Carrey has to lie for her, but obviously he can't, and at one point he literally beats himself up in a restroom so the judge will think he was mugged and postpone the trial.
Unfortunately, the screenplay by Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur (whose only previous screen credit was 1994's big screen version of "The Little Rascals") attempts to infuse a message into this hilarity: lying is bad, the truth is good, and fathers should love their sons. In its last reel, "Liar Liar" turns into a sort of half-baked "It's a Wonderful Life," with Carrery doing his best Jimmy Stewart impression when yelling, "I love my son! I love my son!" And then it degenerates into an overblown chase at the airport, with Carrey trying to stop from running away to Boston with her dorky boyfriend, Jerry (Cary Elwes).
Director Tom Shadyac choreographs Carrey's antics with the same zanny style he brought to "Ace Ventura," but he fails at infusing the film with real emotion like he did in last year's "The Nutty Professor." In that film he was able to balance sentiment and hilarity, but in "Liar Liar" the scale is too heavily weighed in humor. When Carrey is delivering his "What I've Learned From This Experience" speech at the end of the film, it feels about as real as Jennifer's Tilley's bleach blond dye job. Nevertheless, four of Carrey's last five movies have made over $100 million, and I would be surprised if this one is any different.
©1997 James Kendrick