Big Fat Liar (2002)

It's weird that one distributor would preview two films on successive nights which, though wildly different in tone, hinge on the same basic premise: in Big Fat Liar - as in Changing Lanes - a minor road accident leaves a document left in the hands of one of the participants which leads to an escalating feud. This is a kid-friendly comedy, which ventures into Action!/The Player territory by satirising crassly evil Hollywood producers but can't be as ruthless as it needs to be if it wanted to be really funny. However, the leads are nice and it burbles along quite cheerfully.

14-year-old Jason Shepherd (Frankie Muniz) is knocked off his bike by Hollywood bigshot Marty Wolf (Paul Giamatti) as he is hurrying to turn in a vital essay which will keep him out of summer school, and the essay is left behind - Wolf, who is working on a buddy cop movie starring a TV sit-com graduate and a chicken, announces a blockbuster based on Jason's essay (which sounds like a plagiarism of Pinocchio, about a liar who grows gigantic with each fib). When they see the trailer for the as-yet-unmade film, Jason and his best friend girl Kaylee (Amanda Bynes) head for Hollywood to try and get the sleaze to admit the theft, which involves a campaign of vengeance and humiliation that eventually ropes in various film folk who have been harassed by the obnoxious Wolf.

As usual in behind-the-scenes films, the Universal lot, where Wolf Pictures hangs its shingle, is surprisingly busy, with more films apparently in production there than at any time since the 1940s, and plug-references to as many in-house franchises (ET, Rocky, Jurassic Park, The Mummy) as possible. That this works as well as it does isn't down to funny gags, which stretch to dyeing Marty blue and sending him to a boisterous children's birthfay party, as it is the attack of its leads - Giamatti, having paid his dues in supporting roles, gets a showcase for his fast-talking, snide-snarling act as a bigshot who is predictably more infantile (his only friend and bedmate is a toy monkey) than his antagonists, the wildly-improvising Muniz and Bynes, both of whom are Disney-type kids with a contemporary spin. It's not a high-powered picture (the biggest name in the supporting cast is Lee Majors, iconic as a veteran stunt man) but it zips past enjoyably before self-destructing in the memory ten minutes after it's over.
KIM NEWMAN

First published in this form here.


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