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'Liar Liar': Truly Funny

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 21, 1997

Actors, like politicians, play by the same rules: Appeal to the greatest number of people; and donít go out on a limb unless that branch is reinforced with steel girders. Jim Carrey blew it when he made "The Cable Guy." Funny as he was, America didnít want to see the comedian playing a psychotic.

But in "Liar Liar," his latest movie, Carrey comes back with a likable vengeance. Although his character has moral problems, thereís a good person just bursting to come out. Carrey is helped by a comedy (scripted by Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur) that cracks open an intriguing Pandoraís box: What would happen if people were suddenly incapable of telling lies? Mostly though, Carrey helps himself. Heís at his funniest since "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective."

Heís Fletcher Reede, a chipper, insincere attorney who coaxes his clients into bending the truth, plays the sycophantic game with his superiors, lies to his own secretary and -- worst of all -- avoids family responsibilities.

His wife, Audrey (Maura Tierney), has divorced him. His son, Max (Justin Cooper), still adores his father, but even the kid has learned that Dadís an undependable liar. So Max makes a birthday wish that changes things forever: If only Daddy would tell the truth for one day.

In Hollywood comedies, a childís wish is a powerful thing. From here on, the audience can sit back and enjoy the show. Fletcher, all set to defend a reprehensible client in a divorce case, doesnít realize he has become a plain-talking time bomb. When the judge -- before a packed courtroom -- politely asks Fletcher how heís doing, the lawyer tells him. "Iím a little upset about a bad sexual episode I had last night," he says, clamping his hands over his mouth a tad too late.

The awful truth keeps gushing out, and Fletcher tries, with hilarious futility, to close the spigot. He hums loudly when people ask him questions. He sprints through his office to avoid leveling with his colleagues. He throws himself against walls. On one occasion, he puts his head under a toilet seat and repeatedly bangs his face. But nothing can stop the beast.

"It was me!" he confesses, as he leaves an elevator full of people clutching their noses. When Max reiterates his teacherís sunny aphorism that "beauty is on the inside," Daddy "corrects" him: "Thatís just what ugly people say."

As Fletcher sees the error of his ways, "Liar Liar" becomes a predictable morality exercise. But with great gags like these, the formulaís easy to swallow. Imagine Jim Carrey trying to stop himself from beingā. . .āJim Carrey. Itís a magnificent comic experience.

LIAR LIAR (PG-13) ó Contains a torrid, but ungraphic sex scene, mild profanity and painful truth-telling.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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