In a world where people are unable to lie, put-upon screenwriter Mark Bellison (Gervais) is subjected to a daily dose of blunt-talking humiliation. Then he discovers he can tell a fib, boosting his love life and career, until complications arise in the form of a Man In The Sky…
We’re not going to lie to you: The Invention Of Lying is bad. The Love Guru bad. Sgt. Bilko bad. David Brent’s stand-up bad. It’s so bad that it makes you think that Stephen Merchant — notable by his near-absence here, with first-timer Matthew Robinson sharing the writing/directing duties with Ricky Gervais — was the real brains
of his partnership with Gervais all along.
That the movie exists in a laugh-free limbo at all is a huge surprise, not just because of Gervais’ involvement, but because of the seemingly fail-safe premise. On paper, a reverse Liar Liar sounds promising, but in practice it’s not only massively flawed with contradictions galore (how can Edward Norton be a bent cop if bound to honesty?), but soon runs out of steam, like an improv-class exercise stretched way beyond its limits.
One major problem is that we’re not simply in a world where people can’t lie, but where they’re compelled to tell the truth, in the bluntest possible terms, regardless of the situation. While this is fine for a waiter admitting to sipping a drink, it leads to a succession of flat sketches, comedic dead zones filled with first-base insults. Did you know that Gervais is overweight with a snub nose? By the twentieth time that joke is hammered into the ground here, you will.
Gervais has, of course, traded in the comedy of embarrassment before, but in The Office or Extras, he’s always had sympathetic characters to bounce off. But The Invention Of Lying is peopled almost entirely by spiteful half-wits and antagonistic morons — Jennifer Garner’s love interest, for example, is a shallow narcissist who won’t shut up about genetics in a manner that would please Dr. Josef Mengele — and the result is a charmless affair. By the time the ramshackle plot detours into a hideously ill-conceived religious satire, as a Jesus-sandaled Gervais invents God, not even the regular interventions of his Amazing Comedy Friends (including Jason Bateman, Norton and, mugging shamelessly in a one-scene cameo, Merchant) can save a film that aims for the profundity of Groundhog Day, but doesn’t even come close to Multiplicity.
Proof that when you aim for the stars, sometimes you find a black hole. Hopefully just an anomaly for the usually wonderful Gervais.