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Should I Watch..? Liar Liar
What's the big deal?
Liar Liar is a comedy fantasy film released in 1997 and marks the second collaboration between director Tom Shadyac and star Jim Carrey after Carrey's breakthrough appearance as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1). The film also stars Justin Cooper, Maura Tierney, Cary Elwes, Jennifer Tilly and Amanda Donohoe - it also marks the final film appearance of Jason Bernard who died shortly after filming. The film sees Carrey play a compulsive liar and career-minded lawyer who is forced by a birthday wish from his neglected young son to tell nothing but the truth for 24 hours. Like Ace Ventura, the film was a success at the box office with global takings of $302 million and it also earned Carrey a Golden Globe nomination for his performance.
What's it about?
LA-based lawyer Fletcher Reede is much more successful at work than he is in his family life, estranged from his ex-wife Audrey and constantly letting down his dear son Max. His current client is the gold-digging Samantha Cole and Fletcher is promised a boost to his career if he wins the case. Unfortunately, this leads to Fletcher letting Max down on his birthday after he spends the evening sleeping with colleague Miranda instead of attending his son's birthday party. As a result, Max wishes that his father could not tell a single lie for a whole day as he blows out his birthday candles.
The impact on Fletcher is immediate as he finds himself inexplicably putting his foot in it with Miranda, getting entirely tongue-tied by the most basic of conversations and worse, threatening the case he's working on. Will Fletcher manage to keep his cool and learn his lesson - however painful it may be?
Judge Marshall Stevens
Paul Guay & Stephen Mazur
Release Date (UK)
2nd May, 1997
What's to like?
Carrey has a barely-contained energy that propels him through the screen like few comic actors before him. Only the late Robin Williams could get close but up to this point, Carrey's manic performances tended to overshadow his films. Finally, he gets the balance right in Liar Liar - he's still shouting and gurning like his life depended on it but he also remembers to be funny as well. He is just magnetic, holding our attention throughout what is actually a very funny film despite the flimsy nature of the plot. Truthfully (as I always am, of course!), I'd say this is Carrey's best out-and-out comedic performance to date.
Of course, the film provides plenty of stock characters for him to bounce off - the man-eating work colleague, the quirky receptionist and of course, the grumpy ex-wife and wholesome child. Cooper, despite his appalling mid-90s haircut, is certainly watchable but I got the feeling that the film never gave him enough to do - a charge also levelled at Tierney's underused character. But the film remembers to shoe-horn in a redemption arc for Fletcher but then lets him off the hook when it comes to working the court with his impediment. I wanted Fletcher to lose it all because he's such a jerk - the case, his job, his family - and only then would he realise the error of his ways. Sadly, I was to be denied.
- In the scene where Fletcher beats himself up in the restroom, no sound effects were used - the noises heard were the noises produced by Jim Carrey's head bouncing off walls, floors and urinals.
- Carrey turned down the role of Dr Evil in the first Austin Powers (2) movie, a role that Mike Myers eventually made his own. Not that Carrey would have been too downhearted - he was paid a staggering $20 million for this movie, accounting for almost half the film's budget.
- The film also marks the final film appearance of Don Keefer who played the begger outside the Courthouse. Keefer would sadly pass away in 2014 at the age of 98.
What's not to like?
Honestly, how much you'll enjoy the film depends on how well you can stand Carrey when he's in maniac mode. He rips and chomps his way through the scenes like the T-Rex from Jurassic Park (3) and dominates the picture to such an extent that you forget some of the other cast members - I personally had forgotten Jennifer Tilly and Cary Elwes were even involved. Whether this is due to Carrey being so memorable or the rest of the cast underperforming is up for debate. But personally I like Carrey when he's being outrageous - I loved his performance in The Mask (4) and here, he has no CG effects to stretch that rubbery face of his.
The other major problem I feel Liar Liar has is with its tone. By rights, it should have been a kid's movie but the movie seems concerned with cramming itself full of unnecessary sexual references - even the moment Fletcher discovers his inability to tell a lie comes after he openly passes judgement on sleeping with Donohoe's character. Ordinarily, such issues don't bother me but the combination of the film's premise and Carrey's whirlwind performance made such humour feel like a stark contradiction.
Should I watch it?
Liar Liar is an accomplished comedy that makes the most of its premise thanks to Carrey giving the role the big kahuna. It's not going to change the world but is an enjoyable enough way of spending time with one of the last great physical comedians Hollywood has to offer. Be warned, though - anyone who doesn't enjoy Carrey noisily goofing around will find the film to be their own personal journey into hell. On the bright side, at least it's over after 86 minutes...
Great For: Jim Carrey's fans, funny bones awaiting a good tickling, mature children
Not So Great For: career-minded lawyers, habitual liars, Jim Carrey's detractors
What else should I watch?
Carrey's career has veered wildly from goofball comedies like Ace Ventura and Me, Myself And Irene (5) to acclaimed dramatic roles in films like The Truman Show (6) and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (7). His best roles appear to have been earlier in his career as recent efforts have either been voiceover roles or disappointing outings like Yes Man (8) - fans of his zany comic persona will relish The Mask which helped bring Carrey to international stardom while The Truman Show remains my favourite Carrey film of all, a stunning satire about reality TV and the all-consuming power of television.
Courtroom films are some of my least favourite types of movie, usually getting bogged down in the dreary case or enlivened up with cheap sex scenes and lurid murders - Body Of Evidence (9), I'm looking at you. Having said that, few will argue that To Kill A Mockingbird (10) is among such trash - Gregory Peck's impeccable performance as Atticus Finch has remained embedded in my memory from when I first saw the film in school many years ago. Like the book, it takes its time to get going but the film is unquestionably one of the most genuinely noble, affecting and worthwhile films I've ever seen.
© 2016 Benjamin Cox