Saturday 5 October 2019

Movie Review: Big Fat Liar (2002)

A breezy teen comedy about truthfulness and Hollywood's cut-throat culture, Big Fat Liar delivers easy chuckles without exceeding expectations.

14 year old Jason Shepherd (Frankie Muniz) is an expert at lying about everything. When his teacher Ms. Caldwell (Sandra Oh) catches him lying about a homework assignment, Jason has to write a 1,000 word essay in one afternoon. He writes about what he knows and calls the piece Big Fat Liar. Unfortunately, the assignment falls into the hands of evil Hollywood producer Marty Wolf (Paul Giamatti) and Jason is confined to the tedium of summer school.

A few months later Jason and his friend Kaylee (Amanda Bynes) are horrified to catch a trailer for an upcoming movie called Big Fat Liar produced by Wolf. When Jason's parents refuse to believe his idea was stolen, he convinces Kaylee to join him on a trek to Hollywood to confront Wolf. Filming is about to start with Wolf's overworked assistant Monty (Amanda Detmer) doing all the actual work, and Jason will need help from limo driver Frank (Donald Faison) and aging stuntman Vince (Lee Majors) to prove that for once he is not lying.

A reimagination of The Boy Who Cried Wolf fairytale, Big Fat Liar is family-friendly entertainment aimed at young teenagers, and easily hits its modest targets. Parts of the film unfold as a version of Home Alone set in Hollywood, Jason and Kaylee setting up a makeshift command centre in a movie props warehouse and laying a series of traps to force the uncooperative Marty into admitting his theft.

The Dan Schneider screenplay seeks character-driven jokes, and most of the laughs are derived from Jason's ability to quickly make up more elaborate lies to extract himself from the mess created by his previous lie. Director Shawn Levy keeps the mood appropriately light and delivers the film in a compact 88 minutes, with just the one musical montage.

Behind all the laughs is a basic morality tale about the importance of staying close to the truth, Jason sensing the genuine hurt of losing his dad's trust due to the never ending stream of fibs. Meanwhile Schneider mercilessly pokes away at a Hollywood culture portrayed as selfish and mean-spirited. The smarmy Wolf is on a losing streak and desperate for a hit, and stealing from a kid is the least of his worries as he attempts to curry favour with new studio boss Marcus Duncan (Russell Hornsby).

And of course in this town anything good is instigated by assistants, in this case the resourceful Monty, who has the power to disrupt the status quo should she choose to use it.

In the central roles Frankie Muniz and Amanda Bynes radiate confident charisma, and in a commendably cartoonish performance Paul Giamatti physically and mentally throws himself into the exaggerated antagonist role. Every Wolf has his day, until the kids come to play.

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