Of course physical comedy appears effortless for Jim Carrey. After all, the star of “Dumb and Dumber” and “Me, Myself & Irene” is nothing but brilliant when he combines his physical and comedic talents with the Farrelly brothers (and even times when he does not). However, sandwiched between those two films is a great one-joke movie called “Liar Liar.” While director Tom Shadyac isn’t the Farrelly brothers, he’s close with this one.
(1997; 86 minutes; rated PG-13; directed by Tom Shadyac and starring Jim Carrey, Maura Tierney and Cary Elwes)
THIS IS HOW TO DO A ONE-JOKE MOVIE
One-joke movies are tough. Keeping up the laughs with the same joke requires great skill in delivering fresh punchlines just as the audience believes they’ve got your movie figured out. Actor Jim Carrey and director Tom Shadyac pull off an impressive effort with “Liar Liar.”
Carrey uses all his physical tools here from contorted facial expressions to guttural throat sounds to a great fight with one of his hands about a pen (by the way, he loses) in “Liar Liar” while also using his youthful good looks to the best effect. I like “Liar Liar” better than his work in “Me, Myself & Irene” and like it nearly as well as “Dumb and Dumber” (both are Farrelly brothers flicks).
The plot here is straightforward: Carrey plays “Fletcher Reede,” who is an attorney who can take anyone’s case and, regardless of the facts, make it a winner. Put simply: he’s a compulsive liar. Carrey gets a divorce case and convinces the client they’ll win even though she has flagrantly committed adultery and has a pre-nuptial agreement. At the same time, he’s missing quality time with his former wife and son.
While missing his son’s birthday party because of a sexual liaison, the boy’s birthday wish while blowing out the candles of his cake is that Carrey could not tell a lie for an entire day. And so the one-joke movie kicks into high gear.
Carrey then pinballs from one problem to the next. It’s hilarious to watch this train wreck, since he cannot lie and you begin to believe each scene is better than the last (they’re all equally funny). From his blatant sexual comments to a woman in an elevator to hacking off his secretary about the truth behind her not getting a raise to courtroom antics that real judges wish they could actually see, the film just keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering how you’ll fall down laughing next.
Carrey is so good here that you start to grin even if he’s just walking in a hallway. You know he’s going to do something funny and he never fails his audience. Such shenanigans could easily grow tiresome, but Carrey was at the peak of his craft with “Liar Liar.” Carrey has also been in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Bruce Almighty” and the “Ace Ventura” franchise. If you haven’t seen Carrey in “Liar Liar,” don’t miss it any longer.
In comparison to Carrey’s over-the-top antics, Maura Tierney as his ex-wife “Audrey Reede” is milquetoast, or so you might believe. However, she is just calm and deliberate in wanting the whirlwind that is Carrey to give way to a bit more stability. Tierney does a good job and is an excellent casting choice for the role. She has also been in TV’s “ER” and “NewsRadio” as well as films such as “Primary Colors” and “Semi-Pro.”
The real milquetoast character here is Cary Elwes as “Jerry.” He’s Tierney’s suitor and wants her and her son to move to Boston to be with him. Of course Elwes is over-the-top saccharine in this role, but I guess that what Shadyac wanted. In any case, it’s not much of a showcase for him. He was better in the HBO film “Pentagon Wars” (click here for my review) as well as being in comedy (“Robin Hood: Men in Tights”), action (“Twister”) as well as horror (“Saw”).
Anne Haney gives the most delightful small performance here as “Greta,” who is Carrey’s longsuffering assistant who knows of his conniving ways and she works hard to keep him in good standing with everyone. Her confrontation with him when she realizes he truly cannot lie is nearly as good as the ending courtroom scene. Haney has also been in “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “The American President.”
Playing the gold-digging wife “Samantha Cole” is Jennifer Tilley in one of her better roles. Tilley plays the oversexed (at least to her boyfriend) woman who wants her husband’s money. She married young (this is key in the film) and now wants out. Tilley is best when she has to testify after her reputation was dragged through the mud in court. She was also excellent in the little-remembered “Let It Ride” with Richard Dreyfuss; was cluelessly daft in “Johnny Be Good” (click here for my review); and was in “The Crew.”
Swoosie Kurtz does a really nice turn as “Dana Appleton,” who is the attorney opposing Carrey. Kurtz must have done a yeoman’s job to keep from laughing in here scenes with Carrey and you can see some great outtakes with her during the credits. She has also been in “Dangerous Liaisons” and “Cruel Intentions.”
At the end, Carrey comes up with an actual fact about his client’s age that negates the prenuptial agreement and manages to repair his fractured relationship with his ex-wife and son. It would have been nice for Shadyac to have the Farrelly brothers’ talent for closing out a film, but, alas, he does not and “Liar Liar” sputters to its predictable conclusion. However, the credits are good with outtakes of Carrey making everyone laugh with his ad-libs.
Audiences in the U.S. agreed that this is an excellent comedy as they plunked down $181.4 million in 1997 to make “Liar Liar” the fourth-ranked film of the year, according to Box Office Mojo. On a budget of $45 million, “Liar Liar” would go on to ring up more than $302 million worldwide, according to Wiki. It never stood a chance of moving up to No. 1, since the year’s top box office hit was “Titanic” with $600.7 million in ticket sales.
Assorted cast notes (via IMDb.com):
- Krista Allen is the pulchritudinous woman in Carrey’s apartment building elevator. His comments to her are the hilarious sign of things to come in “Liar Liar.” Allen has also been in “Anger Management” and many TV episodes including one in “Monk.”
- Justin Cooper played Carrey’s son “Max” and he had a brief career as a child actor – thankfully it ended, since he’s terrible here and looks even worse with his bowl-shaped haircut that the designers probably thought made him look cute. He also made appearances in TV series including “Full House” and “The Boys are Back.”
- Veteran actor Mitchell Ryan has a nice small part as “Mr. Allen,” the law firm’s attorney who is the victim of Carrey’s biting, profane comments about his character. Ryan doesn’t get mad, he actually likes it. Ryan was also in “Lethal Weapon” as well as “Gross Pointe Blank” with John Cusack and Minnie Driver (click here for my review).
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