The Invention of Lying: Nice Try, Ricky Gervais

The plot hook here sounds like a pileup of Jim Carrey–Tom Shadyac concept comedies. Ricky Gervais' fuzzy parable exists in an alternate universe where nobody has made a word for "truth," because nobody tells anything but—until one man discovers how to say "things that aren't." That man is The Office's auteur, also co-writer/co-director here. As in that calling-card work, Lying is interested in self-deception as a survival technique. Basically a good sort, Gervais' Mark uses his gift to ameliorate the sting of the matter-of-fact on the meek—nobody here has heard the old "Everything's going to be all right" before, and it's a revelation. In a moment of unction, Mark improvises the comforting idea of heaven, along with a Man in the Sky making up the guest list. Playing to a more credulous public than Jesus, he doesn't need miracles, and the viral spread of TV news makes him an overnight prophet. At times it feels as if Gervais has made a film as two-dimensional in its smug secularism as Bruce Almighty was in its vacation-Bible-school pandering. When the jokes based on universal social ineptitude wear with use, the film remembers unrequited love. Gervais plays schlub beautifully, testing and discarding a dozen ineffective inflections, sweetly suppliant in hurt. But though Lying brushes more big ideas than commonplace comedies, it hasn't taken those ideas through enough drafts to work out their implications or—harder still—make them killingly funny.

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