For Frankie Muniz (TV's "Malcolm in the Middle") and Amanda Bynes
(Nickelodeon's "The Amanda Show"), Shawn Levy's "Big Fat Liar" is
their first major foray into the feature film arena. A family-friendly
movie starring young teen TV actors that is, essentially, an 87-minute
advertisement for Universal Studios, could have gone very wrong. There
is nothing much worse than shameless product placement to mask the
weaknesses in a film's script. What is a pleasant surprise, then,
is that "Big Fat Liar" does have a passable screenplay (by Dan Schneider),
and it's a pretty funny one too, taking full advantage of the sturdy
comic timing of its stars without the need to throw in a slew of gross-out gags.
Jason Shepherd (Frankie Muniz) is a 14-year-old boy who has lied so
much in his life that even his parents have stopped trusting him.
While on his way to school after writing a story for an important
English class assignment that he entitles "Big Fat Liar," he is hit
on his bike by a limo carrying hot shot Hollywood producer Marty Wolf
(Paul Giamatti). Giving him a ride to school in fear of being sued,
Jason accidentally leaves his story in Marty's car.
Switch forward to the summer, Jason is appalled to discover that "Big
Fat Liar" is being made into a big-budget action film. With no one
believing that he wrote the story except loyal best friend, Kaylee
(Amanda Bynes), they set out for Los Angeles together determined to
set the record straight with his parents and teacher by getting Marty
to confess he stole the idea. What they don't expect is that Marty
is a rotten, heartless human being who is not going to let his illegal
actions be exposed without a fight.
"Big Fat Liar" is a delightfully witty and always entertaining comedy
that uses the Universal backlots to its full advantage as Jason and
Kaylee encounter myriad film sets in action and many props from past
movies, such as "E.T.," "Jurassic Park," and "How the Grinch Stole
Christmas." The movie is also thoroughly ludicrous, as the things
the kids do in an effort to stop Marty are, at the very least, grounds
for criminal arrest. We are even led to believe that they stumble
into a prop room that would be any young teen's dream and move into
it for a weekend without being caught. Since the picture is set somewhat
in the realms of a fantasy, there is more room for forgiveness on
the overall preposterous story details.
Young Frankie Muniz and Amanda Bynes are far better in their respective
roles of Jason and Kaylee than they have any right to be. Both are
assured and winning performers who get to show off their polished
comedic skills on multiple occasions. Bynes is especially funny, whether
she is calling a studio receptionist in the voice of a southern redneck,
or posing as the receptionist, answering phone calls from someone
named Sandler, and a "Mr. Soderbergh."
As the spiteful Marty Wolf, Paul Giamatti (2000's "Duets") also has
fun with his part, appearing throughout half the movie with blue skin--a
result of one of Jason and Kaylee's revenge schemes. After being sorely
underused in 2001's "The Majestic," Amanda Detmer (2001's "Saving
Silverman") is back in another sharp supporting turn, this time as
Marty's long-suffering assistant. And Jaleel White (TV's "Family Matters")
is a good sport, humorously playing himself and mocking his popularity
from playing Steve Urkel.
"Big Fat Liar" ends on a feel-good note that, like much of the film,
has to do with one of Jason and Kaylee's convoluted schemes that could
never happen in real life, but is enjoyable to watch play out all
the same. There are parts where director Shawn Levy tends toward extraneous
music video montages, and does go overboard in cueing the syrupy orchestra
just to elicit some forced emotions, but they thankfully do not last
long enough to make a radical impact. "Big Fat Liar" is no earth-shattering
accomplishment, but it is an unusually smart movie that the whole
family can freely go to without a single person getting bored or talked down to.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman