Oh dear! I had high hopes for this Ricky Gervais comedy. He's never proved himself on film, but here he was writing, directing, producing. He had come up with a great, funny concept. This was his chance to shine.
Unfortunately the light at the end of this tunnel is the train coming to run us down.
Like so many "high concept" comedies this is a concept in desperate, futile search of a plot... and some funnier lines.
It's no disaster. There are some funny bits. It starts well (or at least does after a hideously misguided voice-over explanation of the basic plot set-up) but the joke that everyone not only can't lie (lying doesn't exist you see, hence the title - obvious, right? So why the voice over explanation Ricky, why, oh, why!) but volunteers the truth, no matter how harsh, at every occasion quickly wears thin. He gets about 20 minutes out of it and some people handle it better than others. Curiously it is often the straight actors (like Jennifer Garner) that play it better and the comedians (like Tina Fey) who sound too much like they are delivering calculated lines to get a laugh - and therefore don't. I love Fey but every line of hers fell flat for me here while Garner sold the hell out of it. Perhaps it's the less comedic actors lose themselves more in the character and world and aren't trying for the gag, the laugh, just trusting in the script, etc. I don't know but it's noticeable time and again here.
A risky (for some American audiences) plot element involving his inadvertent creation of religion and the spiralling outcome of this is also amusing, but again it's funnier as an idea than in execution. Out-staying its welcome.
There are also some dynamite cameos, including two that had my laughing simply by their presence. A bar tender that joins Gervais and the excellent Louis C.K. in a scene is both funny by presence and in his dynamite delivery. I'm not going to say who plays it because if you're going to watch the film it was one of the highlights for me.
As was another cameo by a usually fairly serious actor (although he has shown a comedic side on occasion) as a traffic cop. Again just his presence is funny from the moment he walks on screen and the voice (cause you won't instantly recognise him) gives him away.
A scene with two Extras regulars is fun but feels out of place in the film, almost playing like an afterthought put in for faithful fans.
Amongst the other leads Garner triumphs, giving it her all and Louis C.K. is very funny, but Jonah Hill is underused and never hits the high notes he achieved in Funny People, while Tina Fey doesn't bring it (and i so wanted her to) and Rob Lowe really fails in an update of his Wayne's World character.
But ultimately this descends into sentiment and lacks resolve or real drama. It often feels like a string of stand-up one-liners extended into plot devices (as there is no lying movies are a guy -nice touch cameo from Christopher Guest as one such - reading a book on camera) that work once but then are repeated over and over, beating the gag into submission. Ideas like the use of lying to make people feel better are similarly used once to affecting and comedic effect but then overplayed.
And before you know it you're bogged down in a film about perception of others and looking beyond the surface that could have been reached by any number of devices, making the lying thing irrelevant!
Like Bruce Almighty the concept can only get the film so far before you notice you have almost no interest in the characters, there is no discernible plot and we're going to descend into sentimentality without passing through palpable drama or achieving any resolve.
Disappointing is the only appropriate word.