'Big Fat Liar' Is Good, Mean Fun

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 8, 2002

"BIG FAT LIAR" is "The Count of Monte Cristo" for middle-schoolers.

No, wait. "The Count of Monte Cristo" (or at least the watered-down version that's currently in theaters) is "The Count of Monte Cristo" for middle-schoolers.

Let's say it's "Home Alone for tweens.

Oh, never mind. What it is is an innocent comedic revenge fantasy that somehow manages to be sweet and wickedly satisfying at the same time, not least because of its skewering of the weasels that run Hollywood. What's more, without uttering a single dirty word (unless you count "dookie," "nutcracker" and "you suck" as dirty) it is one damn – excuse me, darn – funny little movie.

It's so cute I wanted to pinch its cheeks, except that it would probably pinch mine back.

Starring that winsome little wiseacre Frankie Muniz of "Malcolm in the Middle" fame, "BFL" is the story of 14-year-old Jason Shepherd, a kid who can charm (read: lie) his way out of anything. But when his latest (and I do mean "late"-est) school English assignment, a short story called naturally, "Big Fat Liar," inadvertently falls into the sebaceous fingers of film producer Marty Wolf (a goateed Paul Giamatti, having the sleazy time of his life), Jason is unable to convince his parents and teacher that he ever wrote it.

Sentenced to the purgatory of summer school, not to mention the opprobrium of parental mistrust, Jason one day glimpses salvation in the form of a trailer for an upcoming film. It seems that "Big Fat Liar," the new picture from Wolf Productions, looks suspiciously like ... Jason's story. So, with his mother and father away for a long weekend, Jason hits upon a plan to win back his parents' confidence. With best friend Kaylee (Amanda Bynes) along for moral support, and bankrolled by a couple years' worth of babysitting and lawn-mowing money, Jason flies to Hollywood to humiliate Wolf into publicly fessing up.

Said humiliation includes dyeing his plagiarizing nemesis blue, Super-Gluing his cell phone's earpiece to his head then connecting his car's brakes to the horn (did I mention that Jason is 14?). The only thing our hero didn't bargain on is the back-stabbing, self-serving survival instincts of his slippery adversary. Marty turns out to give as good as he gets, heedless to the fact that he's making a lot of enemies in the process, including his long-suffering assistant (Amanda Detmer), his film's stunt coordinator (a game Lee Majors) and everyone else who works for him.

Let the games, and the payback, begin.

Sprinkled with cameos by such footnotes in the annals of TV as Dustin Diamond (Screech in "Saved by the Bell") and Kenan Thompson of Nickelodeon's "Kenan and Kel," plus a good-natured, if self-deprecating, appearance by the legendary Jaleel "Urkel" White as a cop flick star whose partner is a chicken (literally), "BFL" is good, old-fashioned, without being antique, fun. Neither so trashy that you'd be embarrassed to take young children nor so squeaky clean that they'll fall asleep halfway through, the film teaches two valuable lessons.

No. 1: The truth isn't over-rated. And No. 2: You don't have to be a potty-mouth to make people laugh.

BIG FAT LIAR (PG, 88 minutes) Contains mild slapstick violence. Area theaters.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company