screen-captureIn The Invention of Lying no one in the entire world has ever told a lie, until some strange twist allows one loser, just fired from his job and about to be evicted from his apartment, to figure out that it is not only possible, but extremely advantageous to him to dissemble. The loser in question is played by Ricky Gervais who also co-wrote and co-directed the film, which is sometimes funny but very uneven. At its most basic this is a story of a loser, Mark Bellison (Rick Gervais), who cannot get the beautiful girl Anna McDoogles (Jennifer Garner) because he is not classically attractive and wealthy. In this world where people cannot lie the beautiful get ahead and the unattractive lose. It is only through lying that Mark gets the girl. The characters in the film say just what we all think; “You’re ugly.” “I am way to good for you.” “There is no way I’d sleep with someone like you.” Brutal honesty is the norm. The concept is one that makes you think of all the times and places that a lie may be a good thing.

Mark and Anna go on a date at the beginning of the film and she is quick to let him know that he is not in her league, not in a bitchy way; it is just truth. But when he is about to be thrown out on the street, he has his liar’s epiphany and tells the bank teller that he has more money in the bank than he actually does, and since people cannot lie, the teller assumes there was a bank error. From there on any and all lies are possible. Mark tries out a few outlandish ones, and I thank the filmmakers for having some restraint here; others might have gone a lot further with the silliness. His former job was as a screenwriter, but since lies are impossible, they only made movies about actual events. And unfortunately he was assigned the 14th century. But with his new ability, imagination is possible and in one of the funniest bits in the film he writes a screenplay replete with Ninjas, Dinosaurs, Aliens and killer robots and reads it aloud to a rapt audience at his old office.

As with all movies where someone has a special power that no one else possesses, Mark can use it for good (others) or bad (himself.) He realizes early on that lies can make people happy and the most touching scene in the film is when he tells his scared and dying mother that there is a beautiful place she is going after death, where she will have her own mansion and all the people she loves will be there. It is this lie that changes his life.

His sweet lie to Mom is overheard by the nurses and doctors at the nursing home where she is staying (aptly called “A Sad Place for Hopeless Old People”) and the story gets out to the world at large, so he is forced to concoct a story about The Man in the Sky who has the power over everything. And he becomes a rich man, a successful man, but still can’t get the girl. Anna becomes his close friend, but still sees him as a genetically bad match for her. She doesn’t want fat kids with funny noses.

There are a lot of cameos from big names (Philip Seymour Hoffmann, Ed Norton, Jason Bateman, Tina Fey) and the acting is solid. Rob Lowe is perfectly cast as the handsome Brad Kessler, Mark’s foe at work and competition for the beautiful Anna. And Jennifer Garner is lovely as the love interest. But in the long run though, The Invention of Lying is not a terribly funny and the central character not really lovable enough to pull for. It does make you think about ethics and religion, which is probably not what you want out of a comedy. I’d recommend it on DVD or HBO.

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