Liar, Liar (1997)

D: Tom Shadayac
S: Jim Carrey

Jim Carrey is a compulsive liar who must tell the truth for just one day, a curse made doubly inconvenient by the fact that he's an unscrupulous attorney defending irredeemable adulterer Jennifer Tilly in a big court case. This is the premise which sustains the marketing and the product that is Liar, Liar. Unfortunately, there is absolutely nothing else to take home from the film itself and efforts to bolster the concept with dramatic asides rank among the most revolting in recent memory.

It is an amusing scenario, (typical 'high-concept' stuff which sounded great at the pitch) and Carrey is perfect for the material, being required to be physically at odds with his own body at every turn with so much grimacing, contorting and general hysteria. But it's ultra-thin stuff, and the story of parental redemption and family values wrapped around the slapstick as he tries to win back the affection of his divorced wife and young son (whose birthday wish causes the situation) is rather pathetic. Worst of all, Carrey seems determined to ensure he's taken more seriously as an actor by playing as straight as possible between convulsions. It was a road which carried Robin Williams and Steve Martin on to loftier material, granted, but look what happened to Williams' box-office and the entertainment quotient of Martin's films as a result. If comedy does not touch the soul as comedy, lacing it with pathos and drama will not save it.

There isn't much else to be said about this film other than to note the fact that it became Carrey's biggest hit to date (in years to come people will wonder what all the fuss was about. I mean, have you actually tried to watch some of those old Jerry Lewis films recently? There's something faintly disturbing about them, even though you can't help laughing). There are some funny scenes (most of them shown in the trailer), and when he's at his most unhinged, Carrey is fun to watch (the scenes where he confesses his misdemeanours to a traffic cop and where he beats himself up in a men's room are the highlights). But the 'serious' material is very wearisome, limping feebly along to a predictable and uninvolving conclusion (with the added drag of an embarrassing role for Cary Elwes as a romantic rival).

Children may enjoy it more than adults, because the cliches may seem profound if you've never encountered them before (and despite some 'adult' jokes, it does seem aimed at the lower end of the age demographics). But overall it's just not worth the effort of watching, though it may fill time amicably enough on video.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1997.