In-Flight Entertainment:
The Invention of Lying

By Jason Lee

March 6, 2010

No, you weren't embarrassing when you did that Snow White dance at the Oscars at all!

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Stale pretzels and lukewarm sodas aside, in-flight movies provide a great opportunity for you to catch up on some of films that you didn't get to see while they were in theatres. Besides, what else are you going to do during your flight? Stare at the seat in front of you?

In-Flight Entertainment" brings you the movies now playing at a cruising altitude of 30,000 miles in the air. So put your tray table up, buckle your safety belt, and let's go.

Now Playing on American Airline flights in March: The Invention of Lying

It takes a special type of film vehicle to properly showcase the humor of Ricky Gervais. For one thing, he's mostly known as a TV star (at least, he is to me) and it's not always easy to translate TV comedy onto the big screen (just ask Matthew Perry). Secondly, he's British, and British humor is a gentler, kinder, softer brand of humor than our American-style Jackass/Punk'd/Family Guy humor. Suffice to say, headlining in a film comedy was never going to be an easy task for Ricky Gervais.

And yet, in The Invention of Lying, he succeeds. Co-written and directed by Matthew Robinson and Mr. Gervais himself, The Invention of Lying takes place in an alternate universe where no one can lie. No one fibs, no one falsifies, no one even tries to conceal. Every person in this film speaks their mind openly and bluntly about any and every topic, seeming unconcerned with how their words may make their conversation partner feel. It's like listening to a bunch of Anyas from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Except, that is, for a hapless screenwriter named Mark Bellison. Played by Gervais as a bumbler whose abilities often prove just barely inadequate for his various endeavors in life, Mark is frequently upstaged at work by the dashing writer Brad Kessler (played by Rob Lowe), and struggles on his dates with the gorgeous Anna McDoogles (played by Jennifer Garner, who is quickly amassing an impressive film resume). While Anna likes him a lot, she can't see him as a viable life partner, due to the fact that his genetics would lead them to have "short, fat kids with stub noses." Ouch.


With little reason to hope for professional or personal success, Mark finds himself evicted from his apartment building, and must head to his local bank and withdraw all funds from his account in order to pay for his moving expenses. While speaking to a cheerful bank teller, Mark has an epiphany and finds himself telling the very first lie in the history of his world – withdrawing $800 from his account when he only has $300.

Mark spends the next hour or so of the movie trying to figure out how to best utilize his newfound superpower. This ranges from the petty (one-upping his rival, Brad Kessler, at work) to the profound (telling his dying mother that there's peace and eternal happiness in the afterlife). The latter of those ends up inadvertently making Mark into a messiah-type character for everyone around the world, having accepted at face value that Mark has some sort of insight into what happens after you die.

What ensues is drawn out sticky situation where Mark, à la the Monkey Paw, must deal with the unexpected consequences of his actions, all the while trying to figure out how to win the heart of Anna. If I've made the movie seem a little random and somewhat sitcom-y, well, it is. But that's part of the charm. A lot of humor stems from the tendency of most characters to speak their mind bluntly and without self-awareness. It's a lot of zingy, one-liner humor, but it manages to stay entertaining through the end. And yes, a lot of the religious references are corny and contrived, but the actors don't play them as corny and contrived.

Of course, as with most British comedies, the movie's real strength lies in the actors. Rob Lowe is hilariously pompous as Brad Kessler, and both Tina Fey and Jason Bateman are extremely funny and memorable in their respective scenes. The supporting cast is universally fantastic.

Best of all, Gervais and Garner make a wonderful onscreen pair. Their characters are both good-hearted, well-intentioned people who wrestle with what they can/cannot do and what they can/cannot have. To me, the best type of happy ending comes when two characters try their hardest to do the right thing against tough odds, and are ultimately rewarded with happiness. When this happens, a movie (and its characters) truly earns its happy ending. And that makes me happy. And this one did.

Note: Some movies lose some impact when played on an airplane screen, and unfortunately, this one did. As I mentioned, a lot of the humor in this film comes from characters speaking truthfully about uncomfortable issues. For example, at one point, a casino employee openly tells Mark that the casino will likely win all his money. Certain written gags in the movie (slogans on advertising billboards, cardboard signs held by street bums, etc.) were hard to discern, and while I'm sure that these written one-liners were funny, I couldn't read them. A shame.

Rating: 3 ½ stars.



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