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Big Fat Liar (December 8/02)

There are some movies that shouldn't even be reviewed by critics. Some movies are geared towards a very specific age group (in this case, kids), and hold virtually no appeal for anyone else. I have no doubt that children and pre-teens will love Big Fat Liar, but the odds of someone past puberty enjoying the film aren't exactly great.

Frankie Muniz stars as Jason, a 14-year-old who lies to get himself out of every conceivable situation - to the point that he doesn't even need to think before he spouts a falsity (it all comes naturally to him). While riding his bike and holding an important essay, he collides with a limo that's carrying a big shot movie producer named Marty Wolf (Paul Giamatti). Marty gives Jason a ride, but when Jason forgets his paper, Marty reads it over and decides it'd make a great movie. But Jason was to hand that in to forgo summer school, so when he shows up without it, his teacher is left with no choice - but worse than that, his father tells Jason he's disappointed in him. This leads Jason to the conclusion that he must find Marty, and convince him to call his father and tell him the truth. Along with his friend Kaylee (Amanda Bynes), Jason heads out to Los Angeles to do exactly that - but not surprisingly, Marty's not exactly receptive to the idea. So, Jason and Kaylee begin exacting revenge on Marty, in the hopes that after enough torture, he'll change his mind.

For what it is and for what it sets out to do, Big Fat Liar undoubtedly works. There are lots of visual jokes and the pace moves reasonably quick, so that coveted "tweenie" demographic will surely get a real kick out of this. But the problem is (for those of us who don't think Britney Spears is, like, the best singer ever) the story's just not that interesting and even if it were, the incredibly over-the-top presentation prevents the movie from becoming anything more than a relentless funhouse of images and sounds. Even the two lead performances, by Muniz and Bynes, wind up becoming grating and obnoxious - mostly because the word "subtle" doesn't seem to exist in their vocabulary. And don't even get me started on Giamatti, a great actor who's completely wasted here.

The story eventually has Jason and Kaylee hiding out in the Universal Studios backlot, and even living in a prop department. And while it was a little exciting to see the Delorean from Back to the Future again, this particular subplot eventually leads into a Pee-Wee's Big Adventure ripoff - as the two are chased throughout the studio. The sad part is the majority of kids watching this will wind up thinking Big Fat Liar invented this sort of sequence, and really, isn't that just about as bad as it gets?

And for a so-called comedy, there are few laughs to be had. Having said that, there was one moment that's as funny as anything I've seen in a while. Marty, visiting the set of one of his pictures, witnesses a sequence from a buddy cop movie being filmed. In it, an officer is complaining to his partner about various things, and as the camera pans downwards, we see that his partner is an honest-to-goodness chicken. And the chicken's decked out in full police regalia, complete with a little hat. That was funny. Everything else in Big Fat Liar was not.

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