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Big Fat Liar

  big fat liar
Frankie Muniz and Amanda Bynes share an undeserved moment in the sun.

© 2002, MGM
All Rights Reserved

Jason Shepard (Frankie Muniz, "Malcolm In The Middle") is a 14 year-old perpetual liar who seems to find trouble wherever he goes. When forced to write an essay to escape the wrath of summer school, Jason dreams up the idea for a story called "Big Fat Liar" (IMDb listing), and proceeds to write it up. On the way to school to drop off the story, Jason slams into the limo of hot-shot Hollywood producer Marty Wolf (Paul Giamatti, "Private Parts") with his bike. Departing the scene of the accident, Jason accidentally leaves behind the paper with Wolf. Months later, Jason learns that Wolf has turned his paper into next summer's most anticipated movie, and with the help of his friend Kaylee (Amanda Bynes, "All That") the two venture out to Hollywood to make Wolf's life hell until he admits to the theft.

Even if I were 10 years old I would be offended by "Big Fat Liar." It is so rare to come across a film that's this insulting to decent thinking humans everywhere, that maybe I should rethink this review because "Liar" has achieved one milestone right out of the gate: it's a strong candidate for the worst film of 2002—and it's only February. That says something...just not something I wanted to hear.

It's tough to know where to start, as the blame lies with so many different individuals. Let's list them off.

1) Director Shawn Levy, a veteran of the Nickelodeon sweat shop, makes his feature debut with what is basically a thinly disguised remake of "Home Alone," complete with elaborate pranks and a warm message of trust. Levy shows no aptitude for filmmaking, instead relying on what got him the directing position in the first place: his unstoppable love of entertaining kids. Too bad that love has failed him, as "Big Fat Liar" would have even the biggest "All That" fan begging to leave the theater.

2) The film was written by Brian Robbins and Dan Schneider, known to millions as Eric and Dennis on the '80s TV show, "Head Of The Class." Also graduates of Nickelodeon University, Robbins and Schneider have fashioned quite a lame Hollywood satire in-between the equally-as-lame pranks of "Liar." But will anyone find this stuff funny? Overbearing and childish Hollywood producers? Verbally abused assistants? Robbins and Scheinder even throw in a large scale backlot chase, bringing back memories of the infinitely superior "Pee Wee's Big Adventure." Hollywood satire has always come off far too self-congratulatory for my tastes, and "Liar" is no different. When is Hollywood going to realize that nobody finds Hollywood funny besides Hollywood?

3) For his big follow up feature to his large scale success in Fox's "Malcolm In The Middle," it's hard to wrap my head around why Frankie Muniz would pick a project like "Big Fat Liar" to show off his chops. Having already shown some proclivity to pick decent stories to attach himself to ("My Dog Skip"), Muniz falters mightily with his Malcolm-lite performance in "Liar." There's nothing in the film that is remotely challenging, nor artistically gratifying. Muniz bases a whole performance on winking at the camera and spitting out lines like a robot. Long gone is the charisma on display week after week on the "Malcolm" show, replaced here by a softball project Muniz probably took just to get close to his co-star, the adolescent-catnip Amanda Bynes.

4) Ohhhh, and it's a doozy. Character actor Paul Giamatti steps into the role of producer Marty Wolf as if his life depended on it. Rarely do you find a performance with its foundations built entirely on comedic aggression. Giamatti eats the screen alive in a display that could single-handedly cause a brain aneurysm in those forced to bear witness to it. It's appalling the depths this lousy actor will go to to sell the "obnoxious" sides to his character. Marty Wolf is an arrogant, mean little man with a chip on his shoulder the size of Brazil. Another actor might try, even though it's just a children's film, to find little specks of color in the character. Maybe even attempt to find audience sympathy. But Giamatti makes a resolution early on that he will just scream through his entire performance. It is the height of irritation. A breathless, undeviating realization that drags the already failed film down to abyss-sized depths. Even if he was just paying bills with this one, Giamatti should be kicked out of SAG for taking the craft of acting to its lowest point since Alicia Witt graced the screen in "Urban Legend."

With all these cooks in the kitchen, it's clear to see that "Big Fat Liar" is a meal you will want no part of. Even if your kids beg to go, there are too many other choices out there to waste time and money on besides this garbage.

Filmfodder Grade: F

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