In an alternate reality in which humanity hasn't developed the ability to lie, Mark (Gervais) is a loser who accidentally discovers dishonesty and quickly realises the power of his words in a world where everyone believes him. Lying his way to fame and wealth is easy, but things start to spiral out of his control when people develop a religion based on his tall tales. And his biggest problem is that he wants Anna (Garner) to fall in love with him. But lying to her would be cheating.
Allegorical elements add some intriguing subtext (although Monty Python addressed the same issues with Life of Brian 30 years ago), but Gervais and Robinson have a too-light touch, centring on set pieces that are goofy and amusing but don't dip too far beneath the surface. Essentially, the one joke is that people speak the cold, brutal truth in nice, matter-of-fact ways. And the simplistic observation is that, even if you could get all the money and sex you wanted, it's more fun to help people.
There's still plenty to enjoy, from Gervais' offhanded and charming performance to the strong supporting cast, including hilarious small roles for Lowe and Fey plus terrific cameos by Jason Bateman, Christopher Guest and other Gervais stalwarts. But with an approach this thin, there's not much the filmmakers can do with the characters. They all seem a bit cartoonish, and most of the actors seem to be waiting around for Gervais' next routine.
So it's strange that, rather than accelerate the comical potential (or dip further into the fantasy), the film instead turns to sappy sentimentality for its final act, getting increasingly serious-minded. We know from the start that Anna will eventually realise that wants to have short, fat kids, so her protests get somewhat tiring and her big moment of understanding feels cheap.
There are plenty of solid laughs along the way, but Gervais should have been much bolder with the idea.
Run time: 100 mins
In Theaters: Friday 2nd October 2009
Box Office USA: $18.4M
Box Office Worldwide: $31.9M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Wintergreen Productions, Warner Bros., Radar Pictures, Media Rights Capital, 1821 Pictures, Lin Pictures, Lynda Obst Productions
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 58%
Fresh: 105 Rotten: 77
IMDB: 6.4 / 10
Director: Ricky Gervais, Matthew Robinson
Screenwriter: Ricky Gervais, Matthew Robinson
Starring: Ricky Gervais as Mark Bellison, Jennifer Garner as Anna McDoogles, Jonah Hill as Frank, Louis C.K. as Greg, Jeffrey Tambor as Anthony, Fionnula Flanagan as Martha Bellison, Rob Lowe as Brad Kessler, Tina Fey as Shelley, Stephanie March as Blonde, Ruben Santiago-Hudson as Landlord, John Hodgman as Wedding Overseer, Nate Corddry as News Reporter, Jimmi Simpson as Bob, Martin Starr as Waiter #1, Jason Bateman as Doctor, Christopher Guest as Nathan Goldfrappe, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Jim the Bartender, Edward Norton as Cop, Bobby Moynihan as Assistant, Stephen Merchant as Man at the Door, Dreama Walker as Receptionist
Also starring: Lynda Obst
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