Liar Liar

Liar LiarSynopsis: Trust Me

In this uproarious hit from the director and producers of The Nutty Professor, comic genius Jim Carrey stars as a fast-talking attorney and habitual liar who, forced by his son’s birthday wish, must tell the truth for the next 24 hours. Co-starring Jennifer Tilly, Swoosie Kurtz and Amanda Donohoe.

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Liar Liar 7.5

eyelights: Jim Carrey’s dazzling performance.
eyesores: Jim Carrey’s lack of subtlety. the overall quality of the performances.

“Do you know what your son was doing at 8:15 last night? He was making a wish that for a whole day, his father couldn’t tell a lie.”

After the perceived failure of ‘The Cable Guy‘ (which was, in effect, a massive hit – just not one on the same scale as his previous films), Jim Carrey needed to bolster his reputation as Hollywood’s comedy king. He needed a guaranteed hit to justify his new 20 million dollar paycheques – then one of the highest ever.

He turned to two of his past collaborators, getting Tom Shadyac (of ‘Ace Ventura: Pet Detective‘) to direct and re-write the script and Steve Oedekerk (of ‘Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls’) to finesse it. The result was 1997’s ‘Liar Liar’, and it was a monster hit at the box office, bringing in 300 million dollars worldwide.

The premise is simple: A young boy, disappointed with the negligence and insincerity of his father (Carrey), makes a birthday wish that the latter can not tell a lie for 24 hours. For inexplicable reasons, his dream comes true. But it happens right on the eve of his father’s big case, one that could land him a partnership at his firm.

Now compelled to tell the truth at all times, this lyin’ lawyer’s whole life is unraveling before his eyes!!!

The first thing that hit me when revisiting ‘Liar Liar’ is just how much of it rests on Jim Carrey’s not insignificant talents. The script is relatively generic, trawling clichés best left in the gazillion pictures before it, and it serves up nothing special or clever. If anything, the only purpose of its premise is as an excuse to spur Carrey on.

The picture was apparently originally offered to Steve Martin, and I can already see how mundane and unfunny it would have been with him on board. Nothing against Martin in this case, it really is the material. But Carrey dials up every single hint of humour to such a degree that you can’t help but be bowled over with it.

That’s also part of the problem: Carrey displays no subtlety whatsoever here, even in the moments when his character isn’t under the wish’s effects. Every. Single. Line. Is. A. Performance. At no point does his character seem real, a fact that is made fun of abundantly by co-star Swoozie Kurtz in the hilarious closing credit outtakes.

Having said this, his performance makes sense for two reasons: 1) his character is the most disingenuous person you could ever find, so naturally all he says and does is a performance, and 2) this is a picture that is clearly geared towards a family audience – and if there’s something that lacks subtlety, it’s a Hollywood family picture.

Anyway, he’s not alone: almost everyone else is artificial. The son is cute and dynamic, but unrealistic, Cary Elwes overplays the mom’s boyfriend at every turn, Jennifer Tilly is, well, Jennifer Tilly, and Amanda Donohoe is a caricatured sexy boss lady. Only Maura Tierney acquits herself of her generic “mom” role with grace.

But this is all redeemed by Carrey’s performance. It really is. Only Carrey could make this material so ridiculously funny. He turned into a dynamic cartoon to show his character’s struggles against his newfound honesty. It’s not just what he says, but how he says it: in outbursts. And Carrey excels at this type of delivery.

In the end, ‘Liar Liar’ will never be fondly remembered as one of the most stellar motion pictures ever made, nor will it be considered the best of Carrey’s career. But it’s another example of how talented and powerful a comedic force Carrey can be. He took weak, re-heated material and actually made it fun and hilarious.

With his performance alone, he completely carries this picture.

Date of viewing: June 7, 2015

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