“Liar Liar” is as surefire a commercial comedy as it gets. Awfully funny at times and carefully calculated to hit as many mainstream audience demographics as possible, pic looks to score as heavily as any of Jim Carrey’s star outings to date, and guarantees that spring will come in like a lion for Universal.
Premise, that of a man forced to tell the truth for 24 hours, is nothing new, having served as the basis of the popular 1941 Bob Hope comedy “Nothing but the Truth” (director Tom Shadyac’s first job in Hollywood was as a joke writer for Hope). But it is close to an ideal jumping-off point for Carrey, who spends the better part of an hour grotesquely physicalizing his scummy lawyer’s struggle with being obliged to utter cold, hard facts.
First third of the under-90-minute feature swiftly presents Carrey’s slick-dressed Fletcher Reede as a no-scruples attorney who is one big win away from making partner at his downtown L.A. law firm. His personal life provides the grist for plenty of transparent emotional baby-boomer button-pushing: He’s divorced, it’s his son’s fifth birthday but he’s so busy that he can’t even make it to the party, phoning in excuses to ex-wife Audrey (Maura Tierney) and making further promises to little Max (Justin Cooper) that he will never keep.
In response, the sad kid makes the birthday wish that his dad can’t tell a lie for 24 hours. Lo and behold, it comes true, which is a bit inconvenient for Fletcher since he’s heading into court on a case in which his whole strategy is based upon flagrant disregard for the truth: A brazen adulteress (Jennifer Tilly) is demanding a huge divorce settlement despite hard evidence that she broke the terms of her prenuptial agreement with her constant indiscretions.
The high hilarity kicks in at the same moment the truth-sentence does. With Carrey indulging in his patented facial and bodily contortions, but with relatively legitimate character motivation this time compared with the first Carrey-Shadyac collaboration, “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” Fletcher proceeds to tell everyone in his office what he really thinks of them, including his boss and the other partners. He then carries the truthfulness so far in court, to the astonishment of his client, his opponents and the judge, that he actually comes out the other end and lands on his feet.
On the sappier side, Fletcher is also forced to reflect on what a terrible, neglectful father he is, and final reel or so, including a pretty ridiculous action finale in which Fletcher chases down a taxiing 747 driving a mobile loading ramp, is devoted to his attempt to set this right. Verbally spry script by Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur lays the emotional goo on too thick, a matter exacerbated by the thundering overkill of John Debney’s score.
As usual, Carrey is basically the whole show, zinging off innumerable irreverent one-liners and demonstrating his manic clowning in a bathroom scene in which he tries to beat himself up so badly that he won’t be able to continue in court. Pic isn’t designed to win him any converts from those who don’t groove on his ultra-broad style, but it is shrewdly calculated to include enough lightly lewd humor to keep adults amused while the kids crack up at the comedian’s slapstick shenanigans.
Supporting players are all delegated to second-banana status and perform capably, with Cary Elwes, as Audrey’s new suitor, trying to ape some of Carrey’s mannerisms in the hopes of winning over the kid, with humorously pathetic results.
Filmmaking technique is on the rudimentary side, but it’s one of those cases where it doesn’t really matter. End credits feature some pretty funny outtakes.