Opened: March 21, 1997 | Rated: PG-13
Unevenly acted, hatched from a one joke premise and trading precariously on a single performance, "Liar Liar" shouldn't be as funny as it is.
The premise -- a wish coming true for a six-year-old who asks that his lawyer father be incapable of lying for just one day -- should be an hour's worth of material at best. Every gag is anticipated, and the father-son moments are cheap and contrived.
But director Tom Shadyac ("Ace Ventura," "The Nutty Professor") had Jim Carrey in the role of the lying lawyer and he knew exactly what to do: let Carrey off his leash and just roll the cameras.
Once the wish takes effect, Carrey gets an hour and a half out of trying to tell a few simple lies. His Silly Putty face contorting, his Jerry Lewis body tossing him around, in once scene he tries to spout the words "the pen is red." But he cannot tell a lie -- the pen is blue.
OK, so trying to describe a Jim Carrey moment doesn't work too well in print. Every good laugh in this movie is a Jim Carrey moment, so I'm at a loss here.
Carrey plays a divorced attorney who lies his way through life. He kisses up to his boss, he represents patently criminal clients and undeserving divorcees, and does so with enthusiastic aplomb.
He also neglects his kid (Justin Cooper), who at his birthday party blows out the candles on his cake and says "I wish for just one day my father couldn't lie."
Cut to a shot of Carrey in bed with his boss (Amanda Donohoe), a tryst for which he skipped the party. "Was it good for you," she asks.
"I've had better," he answers before turning his face inside-out in shock at what he's said and being tossed out on his ear.
"Liar Liar" is at its best when Carrey is running loose. At a board meeting he goes around the table telling the truth about each of the law firm's partners: "Bad hair piece! Degenerate! Slut!"
In court he pratfalls through his representation an adulterous divorcee (Jennifer Tilly doing her very best bimbo) and comes close to losing the case because he can't stick to the story he invented to make her out as a victim.
But "Liar Liar" almost completely falls apart when turning to tender moments with the family.
In the scenes with his kid and ex-wife (Maura Tierney from TV's "Newsradio") Carrey is called on to play the concerned father, but he is entirely incapable of turning off the ham. You can see the monster straining to get loose.
But Cary Elwes, who plays the ex-wife's new beau, is worse. Far worse. Like some 1960s Disney dad on speed, he takes buddying up to the kid to such an extreme it's hard to imagine what the mom sees in him. It's almost as if the director kept saying "More schmaltz, Cary, more schmaltz!"
This family thread eventually over-takes the Carrey-isms and threatens to derail the movie. The last 10 minutes are not only intolerably saccharine, but also completely abandon the lawyer storyline for some absurd moments involving Jim Carrey on the wing of a 747.
However, as the credits roll we are treated to an out-takes reel that almost worth the price of admission by itself.
Seeing Swoosie Kurtz (playing an opposing attorney) and Carrey screaming at each other "Over-actor!"..."Jezebel!" before bursting into laughter leaves the audience willing to forgive "Liar Liar" all its indiscretions.