Big Fat Liar (2002)

13 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Before I give my review of “Big Fat Liar,” I’ll just share the plot. The hero is a bright fourteen-year-old named Jason Shepherd (Frankie Muniz, “Malcolm in the Middle”) who always stretches the truth to get out of doing his homework. But when he’s caught on his latest scam, he’s forced to write a term paper, or he’ll repeat his English course in summer school, obviously the worst thing imaginable to an eighth-grader. Jason writes the paper—a story about a character that is a “big fat liar”—and is just about to turn it in when he runs into the limo of slick Hollywood producer Marty Wolf (Paul Giamatti), in this small Michigan town for a movie shoot. He likes Jason’s wit and gives him a ride, as well as some advice—“The truth is overrated.” Jason accidentally leaves his paper in Wolf’s hands and is sent to summer school for not having it. Later, Jason sees a coming-attractions trailer for an upcoming summer blockbuster, which shares the same story and title as Jason’s paper. Convinced that Wolf stole his story to create a movie out of it, Jason tries to tell his father. Unfortunately, due to Jason’s lying nature, his father doesn’t believe him. So, with his best girl friend Kaylee (Amanda Bynes) in tow, Jason flies to Los Angeles to confront Wolf and prove Jason was telling the truth. However, as it turns out, Wolf is a nasty, pompous creep, to say the least. Even though Wolf won’t tell the truth, Jason and Kaylee don’t give up and, with help from their limo driver (Donald Faison), hatch a scheme to make his life a nightmare in an attempt to get him to change his mind.

I would have guessed that “Big Fat Liar” was made for kids by kids, as the plot is essentially a kid-friendly plot full of Nickelodeon-style hi-jinks. And indeed, writer Dan Schneider (not a kid) has been associated with many Nickelodeon TV shows. But oddly enough, “Big Fat Liar” is still a quite entertaining film. It’s good-hearted, and quite funny and charming.

Kids will love it because it features smart kids outsmarting the mean-spirited adult world, and in Hollywood, no less. They’ll love the scenes in which Jason and Kaylee play Hollywood as their playground (they sneak through the Universal back lot and have fun in a warehouse full of fun props and wardrobe), and especially the scenes in which they find new ways to menace Wolf. I doubt they’ll get a lot of the show-biz in-jokes the movie has to offer (for example, Lee Majors has a bit part as a helicopter pilot), with the exception of a very funny cameo by Jaleel “Don’t Call Me Urkel” White (they air reruns of his show on ABC Family and Nick-at-Nite anyway). Adults will either enjoy it for its innocent fun, or hate it for being somewhat too tame. As for me…it’s hard for me not to laugh at Paul Giamatti playing this producer Marty Wolf so far over-the-top as a practical cartoon. The way he shouts and spews his lines in a ferocious growl is absolutely hilarious.

Oh, and he spends a half-hour of the movie with his skin dyed blue (and his hair and goatee dyed orange). You see, Jason and Kaylee dump a bottle of blue dye in his swimming pool (and orange dye in his shampoo bottle), so that when he emerges from his morning laps, he is shocked to realize that he has to go to a very important meeting looking like a member of the Blue Man Group. (How Wolf’s speedo (and eyes) isn’t affected by the dye is beyond me, but I won’t question it.) My favorite line, from Wolf to his underappreciated assistant Monty (Amanda Detmer)—“I’m blue,” Wolf complains as Monty replies, “Oh, we all have our off days.”

“Big Fat Liar” is that kind of movie. It’s confident in its goofy storytelling and strays away from becoming too stupid, and has some pretty funny moments. Muniz and Bynes have an easy chemistry and each possess a sharp wit. And of course, there’s Paul Giamatti, who is an absolute riot as the live-action cartoon simply named Marty Wolf. “Big Fat Liar” is a little treasure of a movie.

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