Director: Ricky Gervais
Cast: Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner
Jokes. That’s what comedies are about. If you work in a little social commentary, that’s great, or prove how many famous people you know, good for you. But one thing is important above all else: a comedy should be funny. The Invention of Lying isn’t.
Ricky Gervais’s first feature as writer, director and star has an interesting premise. Set in an alternate world where people can only tell the truth, Mark Bellison (Gervais), discovers how to lie. Will this change the life of the fat, snub-nosed loser? Perhaps not – as Anna (Garner) points out on their first date, he’s not good genetic material for their kids. Unless she wants kids that are fat with snub noses.
Her honesty makes for a shallow love interest, which fails to engage on any level. But Ricky has a trick up his sleeve: as Mark tries to comfort his dying grandma, he tells her that death isn’t a sad eternity of nothingness – it’s a happy place, where she’ll live forever with The Man in the Sky. A sneaky snipe at religion, there, worked into a seemingly innocent romantic comedy. How clever of Mr Gervais to come up with two ideas that are completely incongruous and equally not funny.
Then begins an endless role-call of Ricky’s American friends, all showing how funny and popular he is across the Atlantic. Sure, Jason Bateman is amazing and it’s nice to see Studio 60’s Nathan Corddry as a TV anchor, but with 10 seconds of material apiece, their appearances are all uneven. The one who does get the laughs (all five of them)? Rob Lowe, Mark's arrogant good-looking colleague, whose comic timing is spot-on. But even then, half his lines are just insults about Mark. Who’s fat. And has a snub nose.
The script (co-written with Matthew Robinson, not Stephen Merchant) ambles on in the same fashion, struggling to stretch its simple sketch out over 99 minutes. There are some clever ideas - adverts in the truthful town are blunt and defeatist ("Pepsi: when they don't have coke") - but they're all wasted. Pulled together by a patchy plot and constant product placement, it's a poor attempt at Pythonesque satire. As the awkward unfunniness continues, Ricky squeaks, umms and ahs his way through it all like some kind of diseased hamster. And as all children know, diseased hamsters aren’t funny.
There’s painful humour, and there’s painful non-humour. This is the definitely the latter - and that's not a lie.
- jason bateman
- jennifer garner
- life of brian
- matthew robinson
- monty python
- ricky gervais