The Invention of Lying (Review)

Shortly after this was released came the invention of Refunds.

Shortly after this was released came the invention of Refunds.

It took a while, but Ricky Gervais finally comes crashing back down to earth. This was released in the US a few months back, and Ricky was on every late night talk show, hardly a surprise as he tries to make it big over there, but moreso than before.

I remember thinking the movie must be awfully good, or awfully bad.

It’s not awfully bad at least, but it is awfully mediocre. Still, you can’t expect that a man with a resume as glittery as his to go on unblemished forever, and this is hardly Meet the Spartans 2.


The film started promisingly, with Gervais commencing some brief narration over the opening credits by sarcastically mocking the names appearing onscreen, stating no-one cares who they are but they have to have their name up there for their ego.

I’m thinking: Good, Gervais takes aim at conventions and raises a chuckle at the same time.

(I love The Office, I love Extras, I was very pleasantly surprised when Ghost Town was way better than a romantic comedy has any right to be, I laughed when he opens the movie by pulling the piss out of assorted crew members.)

I didn’t laugh again for the duration of The Invention of Lying.

As the bald guy from The Princess Bride would say, “Inconceivable!”. Here we have one of the funniest guys going around, having full control over something that he himself wrote (with some other guy whose name I can’t remember), and a very solid comedic cast including:

  • Phillip Seymour Hoffman
  • Jason Bateman
  • Louis C.K.
  • Jonah Hill
  • Tina Fey
  • Jeffrey Tambor
  • Ed Norton
  • Rob Lowe

And Gervais himself…

And I couldn’t squeeze out a snort, let alone a big laugh.

The story takes place in an alternate reality to our own, where no-one can lie, there is no reason given for this, it is just that no-one seems to have thought to do it.

So obviously no-one is married?

Like Liar-Liar, which took the concept (and made it far funnier), everyone says exactly what is on their mind and damn the consequences, which leads to an awkward early dinner date between Mark and prospect Anna, Jennifer Garner where it is made abundantly clear by Anna that she is only toeing the line, and that Mark shouldn’t expect much because she is out of his league.

Again similar to Liar-Liar, I thought frequently that even if you can’t lie, you might choose to withhold some key truths if they are offensive or hurtful. So here we are in a place where they can’t lie, and don’t recognize the basic boundaries of decency also, a quickly turned phrase here and there and you can say the same truth in a more respectful manner.

I wouldn’t even mind this if being rude or abrupt turned out to be funny, it just isn’t. Worse still is the fact that it seems they felt the rudeness or “honesty” was the funny part, and never decided to build some good old fashioned jokes around it.

Still, the concept lends itself to comedic possibilities, but the script is too lazy to look for them, relying instead on “Oh my god she just said he was fat” moments. I know Ricky Gervais is self-deprecating but surely he knew that fat jokes alone couldn’t carry 90 minutes?

OK, no more mention of how there are no jokes in The Invention of Lying.

Mark works as a script writer, only he isn’t very good so he gets fired, because he gets fired and has no money he gets evicted, and it is when he is at the bank that he comes up with the idea of telling the clerk that he has more money than he has, and because no-one lies, she believes him and assuming the bank made a mistake gives him the cash. (This might be the biggest stretch of reality right there, the fact that the bank happily admitted fault and even more cheerily dished out the extra cash!)

Mark thinks that this could be a goer here, and immediately goes to the local bar to explain his brainstorm to his best mate, played by Louis C.K., and the bartender, (a cameo by Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Neither can grasp the concept, despite him giving various immediate examples, and he decides to use his “gift” for a higher power…

Picking up chicks.

After this works but doesn’t at the same time, he decides to use his lies for good for a while, helping the less fortunate and making people feel a bit better in general. He also decides to have another crack at Anna, only his conscience won’t allow him to bag her in an underhand way, which shows that it is a movie, as in real life he would make that decision after he had his way.

Being a movie there must be a significant “event” that builds on the premise, in this case it occurs when Mark’s mother passes, and he attempts to comfort her in her final moments with some comforting thoughts, which are overheard by other curious onlookers who demand more information.

Remember, they’ll believe anything.

What follows is a 30 minute waste of a religious parable that I think was supposed to be witty and insightful, but came off as forced and boring, in much the same way Evan Almighty was a couple years back. (I’m in no way religious either, you can take the piss out of the church all you like, this was just dull.)

Blah, blah, blah he ends up changing the world…

In summary:
Funny people + comedic genius + full artistic control = 100 moribund minutes. I didn’t fare that badly at maths at school but even I can’t see how that equation works.

Final Rating – 6 / 10. Ricky Gervais might choose to remake his own film again in 10 years or so, as he has wasted a pretty good premise here.

About OGR

While I try to throw a joke or two into proceedings when I can all of the opinions presented in my reviews are genuine. I don't expect that all will agree with my thoughts at all times nor would it be any fun if you did, so don't be shy in telling me where you think I went wrong... and hopefully if you think I got it right for once. Don't be shy, half the fun is in the conversation after the movie.
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