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'Liar, Liar' less bewitching than 'Bewitched'


From Movie Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- Jim Carrey's latest film, "Liar Liar," is an unexpected, often astonishing, work -- a classic meditation on the duality of human nature that will be remembered long after the recent Woody Allen and Albert Brooks comedies have faded from memory.

movie icon (6.7M/120 sec. QuickTime movie)

Director Tom Shadyac, against all odds, has constructed a stirring indictment of the American judicial system, while convincingly arguing that the redemptive powers of a child's unspoiled heart can save even the most cynical among us.

The meditative tone of the piece suggests a mating of Ingmar Bergman's "The Virgin Spring" with the lighter moments in Fellini's "La Strada."

Carrey is a revelation, delivering a subtle, big-hearted performance worthy of Charles Chaplin at his peak.

Like Chaplin, Carrey understands the truth in "less is more," the light touch of his fingertips and a tilt of his head conveying a variety of emotions that no other actor (comic or otherwise) can even approach.

Now, for the truth

Okay, I lied.


"Liar Liar" is actually the longest, most expensive episode of "Bewitched" ever filmed. Carrey, as a conniving lawyer who is taken over by a magical spell and is unable to lie for 24 hours, makes faces and yelps. At one point, he hurls his body into a bathroom wall, then kneels down and frantically slams a toilet seat on his head. Man-oh-man, was that funny!

Did I mention he makes faces and yelps? I'd have to mention it several hundred more times to convey what it's like watching this thing. In lieu of my typing it, just read the sentence over and over again.

My mama didn't raise no fool. I would tell you that this is a loud, obvious, one-joke movie, but most of you would run out and pony up the eight bucks to see it anyway.

Looking stupid is the goal

I have to say, though, I can sort of understand. There was a time when I would drop everything I was doing and dart into the house because a Jerry Lewis movie was coming on. Of course, there was also a time when I would hide in the kitchen while my parents watched "Night Gallery."

Carrey is not completely without talent, but I'm not going to sit here and write that he's some sort of maligned genius, either. The usual line is that you either love him or you hate him, but there are a lot of deluded types lurking out there who think this guy has got it down.

He's an actor beyond criticism. The idea is for him to look as stupid as humanly possible, and he accomplishes this with great aplomb. I think the thing that bugs me most about Carrey is the self-satisfied look he wears when he's not going ape, regardless of what emotion he's supposed to be conveying.

Supporting actors help a lot

Oh, yeah -- the movie. It's not near as aggravating as the "Ace Ventura" pictures, much in the same way that slamming a door on your hand is not as aggravating as suddenly getting your skull split open with a ball-peen hammer.

The story concerns Carrey's awakening to the fact that he's a self-absorbed, uncaring father. This is an idea that gets toyed with just often enough to qualify "Liar Liar" as a movie, rather than lots of Carrey footage.

Lest anyone think I'm not being completely honest, I'll admit to laughing two or three times. But considering the number of "wacky" gags Carrey trots out, his official Paul Tatara batting average is .073. American League pitchers bat .073 in the World Series, and no one's calling them geniuses. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

There are a couple of decent supporting performances. Maura Tierney, as Carrey's ex-wife, has a sort of Renee Zellwegger, sexy-but-attainable vibe about her. It isn't a very demanding role, except when she has to gaze lovingly while Carrey acts, for the umpteenth time, like Shemp Stooge.

Amanda Donohoe, who is sexy but unattainable, is nicely mean-spirited as one of the partners in Carrey's law firm.

I don't believe I have ever seen Donohoe give a performance in which she doesn't eventually climb on top of a prone man and start grinding her hips into him, and, unlike American League pitchers, she's still batting a thousand. I applaud her consistency.

Also, the American accent she uses is completely convincing ... and I'm not just saying that because of that thing she does with her hips.

Carrey gloated over the opening-weekend grosses for this picture (on international television, no less) at Monday night's Oscars. I guess if you approach your "art" at the right angle, it's just an honor not to be nominated.

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