Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - January 22, 2010

Ready to Rent

The Invention of Lying

by Joe Ramirez

Warner DVD & Blu-Ray

1 hour, 39 minutes

Directors: Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson

Director's Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson's "The Invention of Lying" is a one note prime-time concept that almost works cinematically because of the grandiosity of Gervasis' well honed innocent jerk persona and some light, unexpected philosophical postulations along the way. It's a high concept comedy that would have been revelatory twenty years ago when high concept movie comedies (see Albert Brook's "Defending Your Life") were in vogue (until cable television successfully adopted their elements and enabled the public to expand their tastes, only to later evolve into the unvarying plastic freedoms of prime-time network TV now offers). It's a Sunday afternoon movie, which demands little time and even less mental commitment if you decide to park your brain before the long week; however, if you allow yourself to dig deeper, there is a complex network of modern insecurities buried beneath its plain exterior.

Ricky Gervais is an unlikely candidate for movies. He is perfect physically, with his stout, doughboy physique and assured whine, with his David Brent on the British "Office" a legendary caricature of controlled, manic corporate management that leaves you alternatingly holding your breath, due to the level of social inanities that Brent racks up, and gasping for air when the situation goes on for a little too long. Here is where Gervais excels, navigating within the maze of foibles in which you watch the subtleties he radios out to the audience of alternating panic and indignation. He externalizes the sweet center of the rotten candy so well you almost forgive him; but not, absolutely, because, as the cliché goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions and Gervais has the knack of playing characters who seem to enjoy their own torments, if only out of habit.

"The Invention of Lying," however, shows Gervais in a different type of hell. The movie portrays an alternate universe where lies are biological impossibility (which also happens to be, if you haven't guessed it, the ultimate oxymoron for Gervais' repertoire). This is a place where eugenics are the ultimate deciding factor for a date, getting drunk is a traumatic experience, and the workplace seems a little extra mean because all social padding is jettisoned. Unfortunately for Mark Bellison (Gervais), this also happens to be hellish because he looks like Ricky Gervais, and everyone cannot help to point out his shortcomings. In a lucky act of spontaneous evolution, however, Bellison discovers that he can deviate from the truth, and it has some alternatingly wonderful and dreadful consequences.

These consequences are what make "The Invention of Lying" so engaging. The movie itself has the look of a bland sitcom, courtesy of cinematographer Tim Suhrstedt, which is right for a world where imagination is limited. It is in the unexpected details, however, that we find Gervais and Robinson's enthusiasms (my favorite bit involves the presentation movies, which consists of a filmed, lone soliloquist narrating to the audience a certain period of history). Nonetheless, it is a big, theological turn that gives "The Invention of Lying" its bite and it works because it grows out of the extension of logic that the movie presents, either leaving you engaged or unmoved, depending on your high-concept discriminations.

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