Carolinian – Arts & Entertainment
Issue: 2/18/02

Big fat surprise
By John Silver

Movie: Big Fat Liar
Starring: Frankie Muniz, Paul Giamatti
Now Playing at: The Grande located at 3205 Northline Avenue
For More Info and Show times call 297-0722
Reviewer’s Rating: *** 3 Stars (out of 5)

Last week I saw the release of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s much ballyhooed, new action terrorism flick, Collateral Damage–a film I was itching to review, if nothing else, only to hear Arnold’s new batch of patented one-liners and to see just how many things he could blow up this time. So you can imagine my disappointment in learning that my assignment for the week was to review a rather doubtful unsubstantiated Big Fat Liar instead. I didn’t know a thing about it, other than that it starred the kid from Malcolm In The Middle and that, by the looks of the movie poster, it looked like straight-to-video material. Or so I thought.
Big Fat Liar is aimed at the 12-16 year old bracket, but it’s one of
those films college students could end up seeing on a whim while not really expecting much, but will probably come out pleasantly surprised knowing they didn’t just blow their money on junk. It contains no life affirming themes or content, but it has some good PG laughs and a worthwhile message, however overblown and ham-handed it may be.
Frankie Muniz, of Malcolm In The Middle fame, plays Jason Shepherd, a
fourteen year old who is well on his way to becoming world’s best liar. The kid is a pro, spinning elaborate and convincing yarns about why he didn’t do his homework or why he is late for school. Just when you think his lie is about to crumble underneath him, he goes that extra mile and convinces everyone around, maybe even himself.
Eventually his falsehoods catch up with him when he doesn’t turn in an
important creative writing assignment and his parents and teachers offer him an ultimatum–have the paper finished that day or go to summer school. Sitting down at his desk that afternoon, Jason concocts a story drawing on his own affinities to lying, titling his literary masterpiece Big Fat Liar. With only minutes left before his deadline, Jason leaps on his bike and heads back to school. As his luck would have it, he encounters a distraction along the way and it appears summer school is his destiny after all. With the minutes ticking away, a famous Hollywood producer named Marty Wolf (Paul Giamatti), who is shooting a picture in Jason’s town, offers him a ride to school in his limo.
Marty, ever the shyster he is, lucks up when Jason leaves his
hand-written story behind in the limo as he jumps from the car and heads for school.
Marty takes one look at the story and sees dollar signs, so he decides to produce the story as next year’s big summer blockbuster extravaganza.
“The truth is over-rated,” he says.
Unfortunately for Jason, his luck has run dry, and he must suffer the wrath of summer school while his parents as well as his teacher feel that they can never trust him again. They don’t buy his story about the run in with the big-time movie producer, telling him it’s just another one of his elaborate hoaxes to get out of trouble.
Jason takes his father’s lack of trust to heart, and with the help of a friend, runs off to Hollywood in an effort to reclaim his story as his and to prove to his family and peers that he has told the truth. All of this, of course, is loosely based around the classic Peter and the Wolf story from Disney yesteryear–the main difference here being the protagonist is allowed an opportunity to fully redeem himself.
The misery Jason inflicts on Marty Wolf over the course of the next week
rivals the suffering Macaulay Culkin offered to Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern back in the Home Alone days. Paul Giamatti, in his biggest role to date, with his bug eyes and matter-of-fact tone is reminiscent of Jim Carrey in his mannerisms and personality.
There aren’t many movies lately that are worth seeing, but I would consider this one of them. Considering my jaded gauge of humor these days (especially with PG comedies), I was surprised to find myself laughing at the goofiness and conviction that the movie placed in its theme. It goes to great lengths to make a point that’s more than a bit palpable, but in doing so allows us to just go with the flow and root for Jason and his cause.
Big Fat Liar is what matinee screenings are all about.