Ricky Gervais takes another crack at the romantic comedy with The Invention of Lying, a similarly themed follow-up to his sweet-natured and little-seen Ghost Town from the previous year. Both are high-concept comedies on their face, but at the heart, it’s the romantic plot that matters most. Maybe Gervais — who wrote and directed Lying with Matthew Robinson — is more of a softy than his alternately selfish and acerbic characters he played on The Office and Extras ever let on.
With The Invention of Lying, Gervais again plays a bit of a sad sack named Mark Bellison. He’s short, a little pudgy and not very good at his job, which might be hindrances that could be overcome in the real world, but this is an alternate reality where humankind never developed the ability to lie.
Without deception at his side, Mark doesn’t have much hope of appearing as anything other than the loser he is. A date with Anna (Jennifer Garner) is doomed from the start when she informs Mark that she’s not attracted to him and there’s no pretense at Mark’s job about his impending termination. Of course, it’s not really his fault. As a screenwriter, Mark is bound to write the real-life history of the 14th Century as no one can make up stories, and The Black Plague doesn’t make for great entertainment.
When a sudden snap in his brain gives Mark the ability to “say things that aren’t,” his luck begins to turn around. Suddenly, he can create awe-inspiring stories out of thin air for his screenplays, tell a bank teller he’s owed any amount of money and even wax eloquently about “a man in the sky” who has mansions waiting for people when they die. And everyone takes what he says as absolute truth.
The anti-religion sentiments have riled some, but they can’t be considered too much of a surprise from a known atheist like Gervais. One might suspect that the anti-religion angle was the entire premise the film was written around, but without anything pointed or satiric to say other than “religion is a lie,” the assertion quickly becomes tiresome. Gervais and company seem to realize this, relegating the idea to the background to focus on the romantic elements soon enough.
The film stumbles along with some awkward pacing as Mark can’t seem to make up his mind whether he will use his new-found power for good or evil, and the concept isn’t exactly airtight — it’s not so much that people don’t have the ability to lie as it is the fact that they are always saying everything they are thinking.
Fortunately, the film boasts a mightily impressive comedic cast, with Jeffrey Tambor, Jason Bateman, Christopher Guest, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, Louis C.K., Martin Starr, Stephen Merchant, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Edward Norton all making appearances to varying degrees. Only Rob Lowe’s arrogant and much handsomer foil to Mark is a tiresome character.
While it’s much more fun to see Gervais be crotchety, clueless or just plain mean, he’s not a bad romantic lead, even if his character in Lying feels like way too nice of a guy. Despite the film’s conceptual and pacing problems and the satire misfire, the cast elevates the material to a place where it’s watchable enough.
The Blu-ray Disc
The Invention of Lying is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. This visual presentation is a bit of a muddle, without an apparent lack of sharpness and fine detail in many shots. Exterior shots tend to be more striking if only because of a wider color range to present. The presentation is consistent and suffers no major defects, but is wholly unimpressive.
The audio is presented in a quieter than average Dolby 5.1 TrueHD that showcases the front channel-heavy dialogue mix cleanly and accurately. Occasional ambient sound pops up here and there in scenes with large crowds and the unremarkable score by Tim Atack lends a little more depth to the mix.
The disc is devoid of any high def extras, but HD probably wouldn’t make watching these lackluster supplements much more interesting. The best bonus is a featurette following Karl Pilkington — co-host of Ricky Gervais’s radio program — as he appears as an extra in his first film. Filled with the same deadpan humor that Pilkington is known for, it’s a bit long but has some great moments.
Other special features include a painfully unfunny prequel scene with cavemen that was smartly cut from the film, a making-of featurette where the actors supposedly let loose on their real feelings about Gervais (but not really), several video podcasts from Gervais and Robinson, deleted scenes and outtakes.
Not available on the disc is a video podcast of Gervais at home in Boston, but you can see it here (double-click to play, click to pause/stop):
The Blu-ray also includes a second disc containing a digital copy.
The Bottom Line
The Invention of Lying doesn’t make the best use of Gervais’s talents, and the concept is pretty shaky, but the hodgepodge cast earns more than a few laughs. This is hardly essential Gervais material though.