The Invention of LyingIn the spirit of the movie, The Invention of Lying is a reasonably funny, reasonably entertaining film whose hi-concept idea, while original and inventive, ultimately fails to deliver on its promise and doesn’t quite manage to be the lynchpin to hold together 100 minutes of cinema. And it really, really, has far too many montages.

In more colourful terms, Ricky Gervais plays Mark Bellison, a screenwriter in a world where there is no lying and, hence, no creativity, so is charged with writing non-fiction narratives of events from the 13th century, a century where nothing much happened except for the plague. His movies aren’t popular, he gets the sack and as he’s about to be evicted and die homeless and unloved, a synapse reaction allows him to tell a lie. Because no one has any concept of lying, everyone believes him. And hilarity ensues, right? Well, kinda.

The good news is that the movie is better than the trailer makes it out to be. It isn’t just a reverse of Liar, Liar and it isn’t just a movie about a guy using his unique talent to get laid and rob casinos. While I’d probably still quite like to see that movie, there’s more substance here and, dare I say, it’s a more intelligent movie and we’re left with more discussion points because of it.

In a world where no one lies, there is no fiction, there is no flattery, there is no creativity, no one smiles if they don’t have a reason to, no one says your bum doesn’t look to big in that dress … but also, it seems that no one is able to hold their counsel, which came as a surprise. This meant that for the first twenty minutes, people basically insulted Ricky Gervais and it all became a little grating and samey. Someone tells Ricky he’s fat / ugly / untalented. Ricky says, “Aw …” and shakes his head a bit. You get the picture.

It also provides my first problem with the continuity and it’s a problem that rears its head from the outset. If no one is able to have an unexpressed thought because to do so is a lie (and I’m fifty/fifty on whether I’m buying that or not), Mark Bellison seems able to do so from the off. When his secretary is giving a long list of reasons why she’ll be happy when he gets fired, he takes a breath to retort … and then doesn’t. Why not? The rules suggest he should let rip in a full and frank manner.

Thankfully, this attention to detail is nowhere near as lacking in the world these characters inhabit. Everything has a sort of drained 60s hue to it. Most things are grey or brown or grey-ish brown. Cars are dull boxes. Furniture, fixtures and fittings are all about functionality and adequacy. On the wall of Mark’s apartment, he has a dartboard and a painting of a dartboard. A particular delight is the brilliant signage and advertisements used. Coke is a brown, sugary drink. Pepsi is for when there’s no Coke. An old folks’ home entrance has the welcoming phrase: A Sad Place For Hopeless Old People.

Ricky, himself, turns in a strong, warm, believable performance. Fans of The Office or Extras won’t find much new — the role is hardly a stretch — but he does know how to portray an character that people can empathise with and a couple of scenes really gave me goosebumps. As co-writer and co-director, he should be less satisfied. For a movie where the premis is so good, there should be endless opportunities for gags while still allowing room for the emotion and intelligence that comes through so well in his TV work. Instead, the plot never really gels, too many characters are inconsequential (although Rob Lowe is great) and we uncomfortably jerk from one act to the next with an implausible love story serving as a backbone. Welcome along, Problem #2 with the continuity. The problem is, we never really get a handle on why Ricky’s character covets Jennifer Garner so much. He goes from dating her to falling in love with her with no encouragement from her and no sign that she’s ever going to love him back. At best, she’s a little pleasant to him once or twice. She treats him as badly as everyone else. She’s not even the best of a bad lot.

The religious turmoil that seems to be riding in this movie’s wake strikes me as a little baffling as there’s no real anti-religious message here, just as there’s no pro-religious message. The message I came out of the theatre with was, with our without religion, people have the capacity to be horrible, bitchy, kind, beautiful and apathetic to each other. It’s no more insulting to religious types than Jesus of Nazareth was to atheists. It’s a fictional movie and people should be strong enough in whatever belief system they hold dear to survive any perceived roasting from a motion picture. Plus, Mark delivering his sermon from the back of a two Pizza Hut boxes is my favourite part of the film.

So. An honest summary. The film just about gets pass marks. It was funny enough to make me laugh out loud a few times and smile many more times. Ricky’s good. Jennifer isn’t. It’s a film I’ll probably enjoy again on DVD. It’s a film I wouldn’t recommend going to the cinema to see unless you can’t bear waiting six months to see it. I’m disappointed I didn’t love it but then, honesty is often not the best policy.