Genre: Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 26 min.
Release Date: March 21st, 1997 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Tom Shadyac Actors: Jim Carrey, Maura Tierney, Justin Cooper, Cary Elwes, Anne Haney, Jennifer Tilly, Amanda Donohoe, Jason Bernard, Swoosie Kurtz
t school, 5-year-old Max (Justin Cooper) is asked what his father does for a living, to which he replies, “he’s a liar.” The teacher corrects him, assuming that he must mean a “lawyer.” Fletcher Reede (Jim Carrey) is, in fact, a lawyer. But he’s also a liar – unashamedly saying and doing whatever is necessary to get his mostly guilty clients off the hook. He’s also unafraid of lying to his son and his ex-wife, Audrey (Maura Tierney), who is perpetually disappointed with Fletcher’s flimsy excuses and constant fibs.
“Will you let the judge decide what’s true!” At work, Reede’s boss Miranda (Amanda Donohoe) can’t find a lawyer willing to defend a clearly crooked woman (Jennifer Tilly) in a greedy divorce case, until she remembers how hard Fletcher has been trying to win a partnership position at the Californian firm. And since he has no ethical concerns, he readily accepts – pushing his precious time with Max to the background, including during the preparations for the child’s upcoming birthday party. Letting the boy – and his ex – down is a common occurrence.
When Fletcher manages to skip the birthday celebration altogether, little Max wishes, while blowing out the candles on his cake, that for one day his father will be unable to tell a lie. And, sure enough, his wish comes true. The next day, Fletcher has his work cut out for him, as he’s unable to avoid insulting his boss, making rude observations about a lady in the elevator, roasting the top brass, and lying in court – during a very valuable case.
What ensues is some of Carrey’s greatest bits of slapstick, overacting, and facial contortions, perfectly mixed up into a fairy tale of right and wrong. It’s downright hysterical from one scene to the next, allowing Carrey to improvise and overdo his performance to a delightful extreme. Writers Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur, and director Tom Shadyac (who previously helmed “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”), have designed the protagonist in such a way that Carrey can be Carrey – but in the profession of an unscrupulous lawyer, giving rise to countless moments of hilarity, particularly during haywire courtroom sequences. It nicely nods to – and expands upon – the outrageous judicial antics of “My Cousin Vinny,” as well as the physical comedy of Carrey’s prior pictures. One of the best scenes involves Reede beating himself up to gain a continuance in the trial, only for the judge to inquire whether or not the lawyer still feels capable of proceeding – to which the bruised and bloodied man cannot conceal the truth.
“Sometimes, grown-ups need to lie.” Following the effective formula of an earthbound comedy with a single fantasy element (like “Big” and “Splash”), “Liar Liar” begins with disbelief before acceptance and a revelation – and then a solution. Along the way, the the scripting is quite moving, thanks to its message about parenting, honesty, morality, and a family-friendly approach to the consequences and predicaments. The conflicts are comical rather than severe (a wise choice that too few comedies follow), conceding many sizable stretches of reality, while the love story at its heart never feels phony. It’s one of the best comedies of the ’90s and one of Carrey’s most enduring (and endearing) works. And it also boasts some of the most riotous outtakes ever recorded for an end-credits scroll.
– Mike Massie