The cringesome, over-hyped Cable Guy made the fatal mistake of presenting us with a nasty, unlikeable Jim Carrey - and died spectacularly in the process. After that, Liar Liar is a blessed relief: Carrey fans the world over should rejoice at the squidgy-faced one's return to form - - this is quite possibly his best, most consistently funny film yet. And, thank God, he hasn't grown up at all to do it. Carrey's still an overgrown classroom comic, the kid who'll quite happily pound himself in the head to get a laugh.
Admittedly, much of the credit for this joyful turn of events has to go to Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur's genuinely witty script. Jim Carrey himself does absolutely nothing new, content to shout loudly, run into walls and deliver his lines with the usual maniacal glee - but what a difference this nice(ish)-guy role makes. According to recent US reports, the star panicked just before Liar Liar's US release, because advance screenings had bombed with test audiences, but on this evidence he needn't have worried. Director Tom Shadyac (Jim's old pal from Ace Ventura) seems to have been content to simply point the camera at his star and shot what happens, and the result is a hoot from start to finish.
The basic spin of Liar Liar is summed up in a single, short scene. Unaware that son Max has made a wish that will forbid his dad from telling a lie for 24 hours, Fletcher wakes up in bed with his boss (Amanda Donohoe) after a long night of torrid, shirt-tearing lustiness. She whispers that he was wonderful, and asks him how he enjoyed it. ""Hmm"," he mumbles." "I've had better"." Carrey promptly gets ejected. Later he admits to farting in a lift, tells his workmates exactly what he thinks of them and confesses to the new female tenant in his apartment block that people are only being nice to her because she has "big jugs". Thus begins his nightmare.
Liar Liar's simplistic premise turns out be an extremely effective one. Like it or not, modern society is built on lies - - not great big whoppers, but small white fibettes (""It's what you do with your three inches, dear...."") - and if you said what you really thought, your carefully constructed life would soon turn to shit. Which is what happens to Jimbo. As he admits to his son in the film, Santa Claus doesn't exist, and real beauty isn't on the inside - - that's just what ugly people say.
Carrey sceptics will no doubt point out that, great central idea aside, this is not a clever movie. Liar Liar is effectively just a Jerry Lewis film for the '90s, and Jim has yet to prove that he's anything more than a one-trick pony. But so what? Plenty of great stars (John Wayne, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, Eddie Murphy) do little more than variations on the same thing again and again: that's why people like them. Anyway, Jim Carrey's performance here is so madcap and energetic - - combining rudery for the adults with slapstick for the kids with such aplomb - that it'd be churlish in the extreme to complain.
And for once, this isn't a one-man show. Carrey is surrounded by some very able (though, of necessity, lower-key) comic actors, all of whom turn in neat little character portraits of their own.
As Reede's estranged wife, newcomer Maura Tierney copes admirably with Carrey's looney-tune antics; Cary Elwes (Kiss The Girls, The Princess Bride) is brilliant as Tierney's sensible wannabe-hubby Jerry; Justin Cooper - - who plays the five-year-old Max - - is hot off the "Cute Kid With Bowl Haircut" production line; and pouting Jennifer Tilly, whom Carrey has to defend from seven charges of infidelity - without his armoury of falsehoods, - builds on her Bullets Over Broadway and Bound respectability with a performance that requires her to display a studied lack of intelligence while wearing a tight jacket that doesn't quite fit in the middle.
Although it's far from perfect, Liar Liar does what it's supposed to do - it makes you laugh. Bar a few inevitable moments of cutesy American schmaltz, Shadyac's pacy direction and Carrey's thespic mania ensure that this gag-packed chuckle-o-rama is slicker and funnier than anything currently showing. Okay, so it relies on Carrey's insane hyperactivity for much of its effect, and yes, there are moments you may find unbearably purile. But Liar Liar is the most genuinely hilarious film this reviewer has seen in ages, and make sure you stay for the out-takes that accompany the great closing credits...