The Invention of Lying Review
The runaway success of 'The Office' opened up more than a few doors for Ricky Gervais, the fat bloke from Reading (his own words) and allowed him the breathing space for further vehicles such as 'Extras'. Over and above that he popped up in the odd movie like 'Stardust'. No doubt it was the success of 'The Office' in America that made him an attractive product to Hollywood. It's a brave person who follows the trail of many others who have left British shores to try to make it big in the USA and Ricky seems to be suffering the same fate as most of his predecessors i.e. lack of a good vehicle to display his talents.
'Ghost Town', his first Hollywood movie, hardly registered on the golden scale of success. Although gently amusing, it didn't rocket him to the stars which was a bit of a shame as it was a film that I enjoyed.
It can't have been such a terrible flop though or they would never have given him the opportunity to make a second movie.
'The Invention of Lying' is the latest outing for Mr Gervais which seemed to appear at the Cinemas in 2009 and then vanish just as quickly, so Blu-ray gives us the chance to see it in a quality presentation in our own homes.
The concept is pretty good. Imagine a world where everyone tells the truth and brutal honesty is the norm. Whether it's telling your other half that her bum does look big in a dress or advising someone openly that you can't stand the sight of them - it all countermands our use of tact and diplomacy. As someone with a violent hatred of liars, even I can see the benefit of the odd fib if only to save someone's feelings and the first reel of the movie lays out the market stall in a fairly blatant manner. It's a joke that wears thin after a while though as you'd have to be very shallow to believe that people would resort to saying everything they thought.
Gervais' character, Mark Bellison, is a scriptwriter for Lecture Films who produce movies consisting mainly of someone talking to camera for the duration. Mark's most recent project on the black plague has recently bombed so he's on the cusp of being fired and evicted from his apartment. As he goes to the bank to withdraw his remaining $300, a lightbulb goes on in his brain and he asks for $800. The Cashier assumes his $300 balance is a system error and hands over the $800 he needs to pay his rent.
So begins his foray into the world of 'expedient exaggerations' as Cary Grant's character put it in 'North by Northwest'.
From tricking a blonde into thinking the world will end if she doesn't have sex with him to cleaning out a Casino by diverting other players' attention while moving his chips at the roulette table or insisting that a one arm bandit failed to pay out a huge jackpot - he takes advantage using his new found skill.
It all goes awry however when he tries to use it for good, by telling his dying mother (Fionnula Flanagan) not to be afraid and that there is life after death courtesy of a 'Man in the Sky'.
I found the deathbed scene strangely touching and Ricky Gervais' acting very convincing. Make-up artists just can't produce flowing, dripping tears and I wondered what he used as his motivation.
Medical staff who overhear the 'lie' obviously believe him and word spreads like wildfire to the point where the people want to know everything that he does.
This leads to quite a funny scene in front of his apartment block as he addresses the crowd, reading out his thoughts from paper stuck to a couple of pizza boxes. A nice parody on Moses and a good bit of product placement for Pizza Hut.
What he has written is a code for living and not hurting others that will ensure everyone will receive a mansion from the 'Man in the Sky' after they die.
At this point I was dumfounded as to why the film had not received greater publicity for it must have offended a few religious groups. Remember the furore that surrounded 'Monty Python's Life of Brian' upon its release, which guaranteed it good box office. I can only conclude that said religious groups have learned from past experience that it's more effective not to draw public attention to such things.
There are some good sight gags, such as the 'honest' adverts for Coca Cola that tell you it's sweet and will rot your teeth. The poster on the side of a bus that says 'Pepsi - for when you can't get a Coke' made me chortle.
The acting is of the low key variety, scoring by underplaying the comedy rather than going for the American sitcom style of delivery where punch lines are telegraphed.
It's a rather whimsical piece and the comedy is spread out with few major belly laughs, but there was enough to make it amusing although it never really achieved its full potential. Getting over the first 20 minutes may be a struggle for some audiences who want instant gratification and the frank discussion of masturbation may seem somewhat distasteful so early in a movie.
The love interest here is provided by Jennifer Garner, whose character Anna finds Gervais fat and with a stubby nose, not a good match genetically for a marriage and children. The lie-less behaviour has her fully aware that she's way out of his league yet she begins to realise that he has other values.
But will she opt for him or the slimy Brad Kessler (Rob Lowe)? You'll have to watch it to find out.
The film is both written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson, which must have made it interesting for the actors on set. A film made by a committee - hmmm.
Look out also for an unaccredited Phillip Seymour Hoffman playing a barman and there's a nice sequence with Stephen Merchant (Gervais' other writing partner) and Shaun Williamson (Barry from 'Eastenders').
The pace of the film is leisurely and it requires the audience to think occasionally which may explain its lack of success in the American market. It might also just be a tad too subtle for some. Let's hope Ricky hits the movie jackpot next time.