Big Fat Liar
2002, PG, 104 min. Directed by Shawn Levy. Starring Frankie Muniz, Paul Giamatti, Amanda Bynes, Amanda Detmer, Donald Faison, Lee Majors.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Feb. 8, 2002
Hollywood's already pillaged all our fairy tales; it only makes sense they'd co-opt our moral fables next. Big Fat Liar is the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” writ large on the screen, only without the moral at the end of the fable ... well, it's sort of there, but it comes at the expense of about every other rule in the book of How to Raise Children Without Them Turning Out Hopelessly Corrupt. With a schtick just a cocked eyebrow away from his role on TV's Malcolm in the Middle, little man Muniz stars as Small Skinny Liar Jason, a 14-year-old kid who can't tell the truth to save his life, but will freely tell a lie if it'll get him out of last night's English assignment. One such lie -- involving a Swedish meatball and the ER -- finally catches up to him, and he's forced to produce an original short story to save himself from summer school. He pounds out a story -- called “Big Fat Liar” -- but on route to drop off the paper, he's hit by a limo with a skeezy movie producer (Giamatti) inside. That producer, Marty Wolf -- or, Chubby Balding Liar -- gets his hands on Jason's paper, claims the idea as his own, and rushes into pre-production on a film based on it. Jason catches on when he sees the trailer at his local multiplex and -- faster than you can say “my goodness, this certainly tests the limits of all logic and order in the universe”-- Jason's off to L.A. with his best gal pal Kaylee (Bynes) to get Marty to admit to his trickery. Jason's not looking for screen credit or residuals -- he just wants Marty to call up his dad and tell him Jason wasn't lying six months back when he told that crazy story about a limo and a movie exec and his missing magnum opus. When Marty balks, Jason and Kaylee unleash sabotage in the key of Home Alone, in which it's okay to make bad things happen to grownups, so long as the filmmakers have properly demonstrated said grownups to be equally bad themselves. The kids' shenanigans -- designed to drive Marty so batty that he finally gives in -- are pretty clever, if blandly delivered at the hands of the Muniz and Nickelodeon mainstay Bynes. Still, the movie scores some laughs, all of which come from the expert Giamatti (who also stars in Todd Solondz's Storytelling, which opens in Austin this week). As the slick, nasty “Wolfman,” Giamatti tears the screen up and spits it out in barbed hunks of mean delights. His character isn't much more than the Joe Pesci to Muniz's conniving Culkin, but Giamatti rises above being the brunt of the film's every joke -- in fact, he's the only one who hits the humor with any consistency. See Big Fat Liar for him, but not for the hour-and-a-half promo for Universal Studios it is (the action conveniently takes place on its lot and theme park). And certainly not for the morality play the film thinks it is -- who knew petty larceny, B&E, and guerilla warfare were the roads to Learning Not to Lie? To say the film is good for kids or that Muniz has proven himself capable of carrying a film, well, that would make me a big fat liar -- but to say that Giamatti almost saves the film from its missteps, that would be the awful truth.