out of Five
Running time: 99
Watchable comedy with an intriguing premise, but it loses its way badly in the second half and almost drowns in a sea of ill-advised product placement.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Ricky Gervais, The Invention of Lying takes place in an alternate universe where the concept of lying doesn't exist and everyone feels compelled to say whatever's on their mind. Gervais stars as Mark Bellison, a down-on-his-luck loser who suddenly develops the ability to lie and uses it to change his life, winning a fortune at a casino, becoming successful at work and using his new ability to score a crucial second date with Anna (Jennifer Garner), the girl of his dreams.
However, when attempting to give comfort to his frightened, dying mother (Fionnula Flanagan), Mark inadvertently invents the concept of religion and quickly finds events spiralling out of his control.
There are certain fascinating elements to Gervais' career as a leading man: the filmmakers have figured out that audiences don't want to see him a) having sex or b) kissing Hollywood's most attractive actresses, so, as with Ghost Town and Tea Leoni, there are no kissing or sex scenes between Gervais and Garner. Consequently, Gervais doesn't really vary his familiar screen persona, though there is one surprising moment when he completely nails a powerfully emotional deathbed scene, delivering a genuinely moving performance that few thought him capable of.
However, that one, brilliant scene also marks the point at which the film falls apart; once Mark invents religion, the script lacks the balls to really explore that idea (i.e. that religion itself is a lie) and it flounders badly as a result. In addition, the film is further let down by some shockingly blatant product placement that starts as a pair of quite good Coke and Pepsi jokes and quickly degenerates into full-on advertising for certain brands of pizza and beer.
Garner is fine and there are some very amusing cameos (notably an inspired moment with Stephen Merchant and Shaun Williamson), though it does eventually start to feel like a parade of Ricky's celebrity mates. Similarly, if you've seen the trailer, you've already seen all the funny bits.
The Invention of Lying is a watchable but ultimately disappointing comedy that fails to deliver on its premise and feels like a cop-out as a result.
The Invention of Lying (12A)