As a youngster I faced my fair share of bullies, and like the lead character in Big Fat Liar, my desire to get even with those who wronged me consumed my existence. This was before the days of Home Alone, where coming up with an arsenal of tools for payback meant combing through the dark corners of the garage looking for dad's five-iron. But now, in the post-Culkin era, every kid knows exactly what to use and where to find it when a tormentor comes calling.
Big Fat Liar plays out just like Home Alone. Boy is the family outcast who is left home alone and while everyone else vacations, he proves to his parents that they can be proud of him again. This time however, the war is not waged on local turf but instead on a Hollywood back lot 2,000 miles from the comforts of home. Like those in Home Alone, the pranks in Big Fat Liar will surely please the film's target audience; however, the messages it tries to infuse with all its fun contradict the premise of the story.
Frankie Muniz (TV's Malcolm in the Middle) is Jason Shepherd, an undersized junior high school misfit who uses a clever stock of lies to get himself out of a myriad of jams. As the film opens, Jason's story for English class is due but because it is unfinished, he uses an elaborate fabrication to fool his teacher. The truth is soon discovered however, and Jason is given a small reprieve to finish his assignment. He drafts a story called "Big Fat Liar."
Jason rushes across town on his sister's bike to bring the story to his teacher but is struck by a limousine carrying the mean-spirited Hollywood producer Marty Wolf (Paul Giamatti). Wolf reluctantly agrees to help Jason but in the chaos of the situation, Jason drops his story on floor of the limo and doesn't realize it's gone. He has no assignment to give to his teacher and as a result, he loses his dad's trust and must enroll in summer school.
The Wolf is desperate to salvage his failing career so he steals Jason's story and re-works it into a major motion picture. When Jason and his friend Kaylee (Amanda Bynes from The Amanda Show on TEENick) catch on to Wolf's scheme, the pair travel to Los Angeles to find the Wolf, and through a series of pranks, seek to enact their revenge.
Kids will love this movie. Watching two of their favorite television stars beat up on a big, bad adult will keep them in their seats and laughing up every moment. The film has implausible and silly moments, but that's the genre. There are numerous scenes though where Muniz and Bynes are not directly involved in the pranks, but they are coordinating them from off screen. Giamatti actually gets most of the screen time along with a supporting cast that carries out the revenge orchestrated by the kids.
Though the comedy is juvenile, adults will still be amused by the antics. They will especially find the scenes that take place on the Hollywood back lot interesting (such as the chase sequence at the end of the film goes through three different sets as the characters turn new corners and find themselves in a western showdown, a snow covered NYC alley, and then a sun-drenched Spanish villa). However, adults who are looking to Big Fat Liar to provide a social commentary to their kids on the virtues of telling the truth will find the film comes up well short.
In fact, the message Big Fat Liar tries to get across about the truth not being overrated is contradicted by the countless lies and deceptions Jason and Kaylee concoct to execute their plan. Amazingly, at the end of the film, Jason's dad is proud of him for actually doing his homework, yet he has had to cut his vacation short and fly to L.A. to pick up his deceitful son who has spent thousands of studio dollars to pull off his many lies. Somehow, I don't think too many dads would be proud of such behavior, especially when the studio sends him the bill!
The abrasive commercial for an upcoming Amanda Byrnes TV show that prefaces the film notwithstanding (that's right, you just paid for a TV commercial!), there are a few amusing moments on the DVD release of Big Fat Liar. Fifteen minutes of deleted scenes reveal plenty of excised Nickelodeon stars, and two commentaries from director Shawn Levy and his cinematographer and one from Muniz add those subtle nuances you might have missed on first viewing. Uh huh.
Run time: 88 mins
In Theaters: Friday 8th February 2002
Box Office USA: $47.8M
Box Office Worldwide: $53M
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Production compaines: Universal Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 42%
Fresh: 39 Rotten: 53
IMDB: 5.4 / 10
Director: Shawn Levy