For its first stingingly funny half hour, The Invention of Lying had mehinking that Ricky Gervais had finally found a way to bring hisndisputable brilliance at TV comedy (The Office, Extras) to the big screen. When the air went out of the balloon. What a shame. Set in a parallel universe where everything looks the same but no one ever lies, this wonderfully subversive farce makes comic mincemeat of the Judeo-Christian ethic. Gervais plays Mark Bellison, a screenwriter in a film industry soocked into truth that an epic about Napoleon consists of a dude in amoking jacket reading from a history book. Love it. Also love Mark’s blindate with Anna (a fab Jennifer Garner) who confesses she needs to go upstairs and masturbate before their date because she’s never going to sleep with a “chubby, snub-nosed loser.” The details are delicious, including the waiter who admits he sipped the cocktail he’s just taken to their table.
Things get better and deeper when Mark tells his first lie to pay his rent and moves on to the invention of God or, as he calls him, “the man in the sky.” The scene in which Mark writes 10 commandments on two pizza boxes and delivers the good news to the multitudes is worth comparison to Monty Python (and I mean that as the highest compliment). Then the trouble starts. Gervais and Matthew Robinson, who co-wrote and co-directed the movie, get bogged down in the mechanics of romantic comedy. Will Anna see past Mark’s physical shortcomings and accept him for the man he is inside? Who cares? Gervais went through the same tired drill last year in Ghost Town, letting the satire drift into making Téa Leoni fall for his schlub character. WTF? It’s no fun watching Gervais work out a tired fantasy of turning hot babes into chubby chasers. We want Gervais in all his merry, malicious glory. That’s no lie.