Monday, December 22, 2008

Salvaging his career again: Jim Carrey in Liar, Liar (1997)

Note: Another review from my preblogging days, which I dug up due to the many odd parallels between Liar, Liar and Yes Man. Since I decided to keep it in its original form, some things in it are now incorrect, such as Carrey's 20 million dollar paycheck.

I must confess: I'm not much of a Jim Carrey fan. I saw him in Batman 3 but studiously avoided watching the Ace Ventura movies or Mask, where he stars with Cameron Diaz in her first major film. His next to most recent film, Cable Guy, tanked in the box office, and this week's Liar, Liar constitutes his attempt to win back his massive fan base with a good old return to form.

He's the monkey man, young Jerry Lewis incarnate, a good argument against the continuing existence of white males. When he was young, Carrey sat in front of mirror and practiced making funny expressions and for his pains he now earns 20$ million a picture.

Having said all that, I must admit that Liar, Liar is actually a pretty funny movie, and in this respect it resembles another film starring an overpaid comic who badly needed a hit--The Nutty Professor, Eddie Murphy's remake of an old Jerry Lewis film. (Who would have guessed that Jerry would supply some badly needed grist for 90s comedy?) In The Nutty Professor, Murphy reinvented his bad boy persona by lampooning the worst traits of his character in the Raw and 48 Hours era movies. As the alter ego of the kindly bumbling professor, Eddie could viciously mimic his sexist, domineering, showboat early self, and by doing so redeem himself.

In Liar, Liar, Jim Carrey does much the same thing. When he, as a scumbag defense lawyer, finds out that he cannot tell a lie, all of a sudden his insufferable overacting becomes effective because for once his abrasive humor is aimed directly at himself. He even makes some self-parodic comments to that effect, noting to his son that some people make good money making funny faces. So for those 24 hours of movietime when he cannot lie, Jim is quite funny, and I admit I laughed. In fact, the nearly full theater was full of people laughing. All criticism breaks down in the face of such a roar.

Otherwise, the movie has nothing but a limp sentimental plot about a bad father learning to be good with multiple references to It's a Wonderful Life. When the little long-haired five year old son, Justin Cooper, first simpered when his daddy didn't show for his birthday party, I thought the filmmakers' flute music was pouring on the sentiment with a trowel. But when this theme comes back with strings and some oboes, I realized they were pouring on emotion with a shovel, a diesel shovel, a dump truck as the movie progresses. When Carrey admits with his rubber expression that HE LOVES HIS SON! I missed his earlier slimeball self. But ultimately it doesn't matter if we don't believe in his change of heart; he's incapable of that kind of subtle acting anyway.

Audiences go see him to make bathroom humor or smirk out lewd jokes with women with obvious cleavage. He's the jerk we can all laugh at, the cartoon man in the age of cartoons for those of us who can stomach him, and with market pressure no doubt hanging on his 20$ million paycheck, this time he delivers.

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