“The Invention of Lying” mocks Pespi, religion

This overambitious comedy suffers from an identity crisis.

TSOTT-00585
TINA FEY as Shelley in Warner Bros. Pictures

TSOTT-00585 TINA FEY as Shelley in Warner Bros. Pictures

Rebecca Lang

Lying âÄì the favorite past-time of marketers, politicians and storytellers, is finally starring in its own tale. Co-written and featuring Ricky Gervais, creator and star of the British âÄúThe Office,âÄù âÄúThe Invention of LyingâÄù set out to be both high concept and highly dry, but itâÄôs hard to pull off those two feats and turn them into a treatise on religion to boot. And while the film certainly has its laugh-out-loud moments, most of the time it feels like itâÄôs wearing one too many hats. The film begins in an alternate universe wherein lying has not yet been discovered, and everyone operates under the intersubjective agreement that what is said is the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Women confess they masturbate before dates and spend all day in bed eating and crying, and men, well, talk about boobs a lot. Other than that, not much is different. There are still Apple Computers, lots of white people in cubicles and an abundance of Coke products, although its slogan merely points out âÄúCoke: ItâÄôs very famous.âÄù (Budweiser, by its frequent product placement, remains unchanged.) GervaisâÄô Mark is the type of guy whose snub nose and chubby body cancel out his chances at happiness until he learns to lie, which leads to nabbing Garner and gaining respect at the screenwriting company where he works (which was formerly making documentaries about things like âÄúthe invention of the fork). Initially, the filmâÄôs imagined macrocosm is engaging, full of psyche-plunging honesty that reveals wry, fast-paced humor. ThereâÄôs even a dose of Jonah Hill (âÄúSuperbad,âÄù âÄúFunny PeopleâÄù) now and again to associate the film with the potty-but-sweet humor of the Apatow crew. As the characters blink in the face of brutal honesty, it makes viewers realize how foreign such an idea truly is. But then, out of obligation, a giant roadblock is dropped on the film: religion. Mark accidentally invents a very Christianity-like explanation of the universe and the rest of the movie rides on its momentum. The main downfall of âÄúThe Invention of LyingâÄù is that it isnâÄôt sure who its audience is. Is it hardcore fans of the cringe-inducing character humor of âÄúThe Office,âÄù excited to see Tina Fey thrown in the mix? Is it couples out for romance and a few yucks, aching to get lost in Jennifer GarnerâÄôs well-engraved dimples? While itâÄôs possible that a cast that mixes the stars of âÄúAliasâÄù and âÄú30 RockâÄù can produce a film that feels fully intentional in all its tropes and tones, âÄúThe Invention of LyingâÄù feels more like the writers were trying to blindly toss its plot somewhere in the middle. ItâÄôs common knowledge that the big religion talk shouldnâÄôt happen on the first date, and that rule remains for a reason: it opens up a dialogue of endless complications. Once âÄúThe Invention of LyingâÄù acknowledges cosmic questions, it sacrifices character development and wit to the contrivances of making a mock Christianity and destroying it, all within 100 minutes. Without that hurried plot development, the film would have been a deserving successor to 2006âÄôs âÄúStranger than Fiction,âÄù âÄì an off-center, smart comedy that explores storytelling by turning it inside out.