Ricky Gervais has had an interesting career so far. Rising to fame headlining the British version of The Office and Extras, he hasn’t found a similar starring cinematic vehicle to be successful in. The problem seems to be that he has found a great premise and doesn’t know how to properly exploit it. It was the problem with Ghost Town and is the major problem of The Invention of Lying.
It has a great premise: what would a world be like if everyone has to tell the truth. Cheap motels advertise themselves as places to have “sex with strangers,” et al, and in this world Mark Bellison (Gervais) finds himself to be a spectacular failure. Fired from his job as a screenwriter, rejected by the woman of his dreams (Jennifer Garner) and about to be evicted from his apartment, his brain rewires itself so he can do one thing no one else in the world can: tell a lie. It has unintended consequences, though, as the more he lies the more the results spiral out of his control.
From the previews, one would expect the film to be an exploration of a world without lying. Unfortunately after an opening act that features just that, Gervais and co-director and co-writer Matthew Robinson opt to explore something else entirely: a near anti-religious screed as Mark invents the concepts of God, the afterlife, et al, to comically bizarre effects.
It’s here that the film falls off the wheels and never recovers. This isn’t a premise meant for a full 99 minutes of comedy; it’s a great sketch as part of Saturday Night Life but nothing more. The film throws out its one great idea (we’re in a world without falsehoods when the ability to lie is introduced) and brings in another as Mark becomes messiah to this world. And it’s awful, patently awful, as the film’s complete lack of confidence in the underlying premise of the ability to lie kills it as it reveals itself to become a romantic comedy needing to explore the nature of faith.
Ghost Town suffered because it wanted to shoe horn the premise of ghosts haunting one man into a romantic comedy and The Invention of Lying suffers the same fate.
With a widescreen presentation and a Dolby Digital surround, the DVD transfer is good but isn’t extraordinary because the film never has to push a/v boundaries. There isn’t a lot of color or great set pieces, and it’s a dialogue-centric film, but for what it has to do it does quite well.
The Dawn of Lying is a short mockumentary about the invention of the lie by the caveman, narrated by Patrick Stewart. It’s not very funny.
There’s a Making of Featurette which points out the film’s original working title, This side of the truth, as well as the quirks of working with Gervais as both a director and actor.
Meet Karl Pilkington is Gervais’s co-host on the Ricky Gervais Show and best friend who had a bit part in the film. This feature chronicles his experiences in Boston while working on the film.
There are Video Podcasts made while the film was shooting that give you insight into the film itself, as well as some Additional Scenes and Outtakes.
Ricky Gervais is in a comedy zone few inhabit in terms of talent, but has yet to show it off in a cinematic vehicle worthy of his inclusion. Lying may be “invented” in this film, but it would be a lie to recommend it.
Warner Brothers presents The Invention of Lying. Written and Directed by: Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson. Starring: Ricky Gevais, Jennifer Garner, Louis C.K., Rob Lowe, Jonah Hill, Tina Fey. Running time: 99 minutes. Rating: PG-13. Released on DVD: January 19, 2009. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Jennifer Garner, ricky gervais, The Office