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Liar Liar

Rated PG-13, 87 min. Directed by Tom Shadyac. Starring Jim Carrey, Maura Tierney, Justin Cooper, Jennifer Tilly, Cary Elwes, Amanda Donohoe, Swoosie Kurtz.

REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., March 21, 1997

Now that Jim Carrey's star quality is as commodified as Jackie Chan's (he's even started showing outtakes over the end credits), the main question we ask of his new films is whether or not their hit potential justifies paying him enough dough to recapitalize the Social Security trust fund. In the case of Liar Liar, the answer is an unqualified yes. You've seen the trailers, you know the concept: Weasely lawyer (Carrey) is magically rendered incapable of lying for one day. This helps his personal life -- the no-lying bit is his five-year-old son's birthday wish. However, it spells doom for his career, an edifice built on a foundation of pure bullshit. Of course, all the extraneous human drama in Liar Liar can and should be swept aside like so many foam packing chunks. The real goodies lie in Carrey's tour de force (that's French for “thrashing around like a trout flung into boiling water”) display of turbocharged slapstick acting. Watch Jim using a toilet seat to flatten his face like a steam-press. Watch Jim's anguished Quasimodo contortions as he tries to physically wrest untruths from his mouth. Watch Jim do his frenzied Three Faces of Eve schtick in the courtroom, first urging his witnesses to lie for him, then screaming objections to his own tactics. It's bold, reckless, genuinely brilliant stuff that, even if the Ace Ventura movies and The Mask had never been made, would assure Carrey's superstar status. Liar Liar's producers have made two very savvy moves here. First, they've reunited Carrey with Shadyac, the director of 1994's breakthrough Ace Ventura: Pet Detective hit. Second, they've hired writers (Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur) who not only excel at devising scenes that Carrey can physically improvise upon, but also at scripting witty repartee, for which he has a real unsung flair. The result is a smooth step toward what The Cable Guy attempted less successfully: transitioning Carrey from a Jerry Lewis-like pure physical comedian to a screwball comic actor with something extra… not that anyone will ever mistake Jim Carrey for the second coming of Spencer Tracy or Cary Grant, or that Liar Liar will dim Billy Wilder's star in the comedy firmament. This film is both too formulaic and too much a one-man vehicle to rate as a true masterpiece. But God strike me dead if I'm lying, this is one gut-busting funny movie.
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