Director: Tom Shadyac
Cast: Jim Carrey, Maura Tierney, Justin Cooper, Jennifer Tilly, and Cary Elwes
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Do you remember the 1990s? Mark does. On Fridays, he flashes back to the golden decade of our childhood. From family-friendly films to blockbusters we shouldn’t have been watching, get ready for a monthly dose of nostalgia, as we put down our VHS tapes and find out whether the 90s on Netflix are still Live & Kicking.
For a few years there in the 1990s, Jim Carrey was the biggest comedy star in the world. Launching off a blinding trio of box-office smash-hits all released in 1994, his ascent to the A-list was completed by 1997’s Liar Liar, his second collaboration with Ace Ventura director Tom Shadyac. You couldn’t reasonably call this the best Jim Carrey movie, but it’s comfortably the most Jim Carrey movie ever made.
With a potent mix of slapstick and schmaltz, the film casts him as Fletcher Reed, an unscrupulous lawyer and deadbeat dad, to whom lying comes as naturally as breathing. As established in the first 15 minutes, he’s about as much of a dirtbag as he can be within the bounds of a PG-13 comedy star vehicle, so you’re pretty much fine with him being handed a magical punishment.
On the eve of a career-making trial, Fletcher is struck by a birthday wish/curse from his perpetually disappointed young son, Max (Justin Cooper). Bound to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth for a full 24 hours, he comes to realise how much of his life is built on his ability to tell white lies, whoppers, and everything in between.
The first thing to mention is that this one holds up better than Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, and that’s in part because it’s broadly aimed at a family audience. Granted, Fletcher starts out as a thoroughly loathsome excuse for a human being, who’s alternately possessive and neglectful of his son and downright foul to every woman in his life. He’s a far worse character than Ace, but he’s in a film with a heart that’s essentially in the right place.
The comedy is hit and miss because the film is always better when Carrey is put into situations where he’s compelled to be honest under interrogation, rather than just screaming scripted insults at thinly sketched characters unbidden. Even though it’s often drowned out by yelling, there’s a pleasing run of verbal slapstick alongside the tried-and-tested physical kind. One scene sees Fletcher take his firm’s board of directors to task with a barrage of limp roast humour and genuinely hilarious one-liners, and the effect of Carrey barking alternative and unfunny bits at a captive audience kind of sums up the entire film. It almost feels like the actor was projecting something out of his system before taking roles in films like The Truman Show and The Majestic, especially in the shouty courtroom scenes.
It’s far from the last film where he goes really over the top with his performance, but he feels more like a live-action cartoon here than he does in The Mask. Understandably, most of the supporting characters could essentially be billed as “long-suffering”, especially Maura Tierney as Fletcher’s ex, who is apparently more interested in Carrey than Cary. Flipping. Elwes. It’s inconceivable that Elwes went from being Westley in The Princess Bride to playing the lame Other Guy inside of a decade, but he does at least make something out of this human obstacle. Jerry’s feeble attempt to copy Carrey’s OTT persona (“Ooh, you’re scared of the claw!”) is exactly as tragic as it needs to be, even if the film doesn’t really square Fletcher’s happy ending with the nice guy being unceremoniously shunted off stage.
Given the premise, it’s ironic that this is the kind of thing that doesn’t ring true. The magic of it all is frankly easier to swallow than some of the basic human stuff (not to mention the clever-on-paper-but-woeful-in-practice revelations about Jennifer Tilly’s money-grabbing divorcee as the court case winds down), but the film coasts on sheer exuberance. Liar Liar is a loud, broad, and often crude comedy that still raises loads of laughs through a Herculean comedic effort by its star. When even the old-fashioned final dash to the airport is as downright berserk as here, it’s almost inspired. It may be so saccharine that you need to brush your teeth after watching, but it’s a rare studio comedy that absolutely gets the most out of its sky-high concept in 87 minutes flat.
Liar Liar is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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