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"The Invention of Lying" Review

The mysteriously excessively acclaimed Ricky Gervais co-writes and co-directs (with Matthew Robinson) The Invention of Lying, a comedy that takes a deceptively simple, yet brilliant, idea and then sort of meanders into inconsequential nowhere after Gervais gets around to what's really on his mind.

Set in an alternate world where no one ever lies - which means the entertainment options are limited, since no one has the capability for creating fiction - Gervais is a schlubby historical screenwriter who is saddled with the unpopular 13th Century; no one wants to watch about the Black Plague. He has the hots for Jennifer Garner who agrees to go on a date with him and then proceeds to diss him for his lack of looks and prospects compared to her. She's not being mean, because in a world where no one even has the capacity to be dishonest, even to spare someone's feelings, the inconvenient truths are all there are.

One day he discovers he can say something that's not true and he's off to the races since no one even understands what he's done when he tries to tell them. While this section has its share of witty bits, the party somewhat ends when Gervais gets to his real thesis in the wake of trying to console his dying mother with tale of a wonderful place where we spend eternity with our loved ones in a mansion. Confronted with a crowd clamoring for more answers, he invents a "Man in the Sky" and a system of rewards and punishments in order to get to that magical place.

After this midpoint, there is little in the way of dramatic tension or comedic relief - other than whether Garner will marry a self-absorbed handsome jackass (in on the joke Rob Lowe) for his high genetic qualities - because no one else catches on to his scam, tries to horn in on his action with competing lies, and they don't explore what should be a radically changed world after this revelation.

The basic problem with The Invention of Lying is that the atheist Gervais' real point - there is no God and religion is silly - isn't a very marketable concept (even for anti-religious Hollyweird) and the sold premise - how much fun can be had if you're the only one who can bamboozle everyone else in the world? - eventually runs out of steam well short of a feature film's length. No one changes and the pacing turns as flat as the rather ugly cinematography. Because his character isn't a ruthless man looking to exploit his advantage and no one else evolves from their childish naivete, the story stays stuck in neutral. If Gervais and Robinson's point is that only a moron could believe such a preposterous idea as a Man in the Sky, they seem to have forgotten that they've established a milieu where everything is as it appears to the inhabitants. With no such thing as myth, why should this one trigger suspicion?

However, the cast is good; Gervais is much better here than the even duller Ghost Town and Garner has somehow developed into an effective actress in films like Juno (for which she was robbed of an Oscar nom; seriously) and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Advertised co-stars Tina Fey, Rob Lowe, and Jonah Hill are good, but there are several cameos that are too good to spoil. (Gervais has pull with his acting brethren, as his series Extras showed.)

I've seen some people who had real problems with Gervais' anti-religious take and I was a little leery going in, but it's dealt with lightly and certainly not able to browbeat anyone to jettison any religious beliefs they have. (He's no violent God-hater like Bill Maher.) No, The Invention of Lying's greatest sin is not having enough content for its concept, no matter how briefly nifty it is at the start. Maybe if he really wanted to make a movie about that subject instead of sharing his theocratic issues?

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.


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