**½/**** Image C Sound A- Extras C+
starring Frankie Muniz, Paul Giamatti, Amanda Bynes, Amanda Detmer
screenplay by Dan Schneider
directed by Shawn Levy
by Walter Chaw Although it closes with thirty minutes of pratfalls and screaming, Big Fat Liar begins its life as a fun revenge fantasy that makes the interesting choice of never being about greed, but rather truth. Marty Wolf (Paul Giamatti) is an evil Hollywood producer who steals the vaguely autobiographical writing assignment of pathological liar Jason (Frankie Muniz) and turns it into a big-budget blockbuster that shares its name with this film's title. Saddened that his wolf-crying (like "Marty Wolf"--get it?) has resulted in a loss of trust between he and his parents, Jason takes off for California with his tart pal Kaylee (Amanda Bynes) in tow to convince Marty to cop to the theft. No mention of economic restitution is ever made.
Little is asked of Muniz other than to be a continuation of his "Malcolm in the Middle" smart-kid next door, though Bynes gets to stretch with a couple of mildly funny voices and a few sugar-coated vamp poses. Stealing the show, however, is Giamatti, demonstrating a nice balance between over-the-top camp and shrewd parody of Joel Silver types (part comic book super-villain, part heartless profiteer). Though not the funniest, my favourite moment in the film sees Marty harassing Jaleel White on the set of a buddy drama that teams the former Urkel with a crime-fighting chicken.
Big Fat Liar, most surprisingly, hints at a kind of Cecil B. Demented Hollywood deconstruction while retaining much of the wonder and magic that drew most of us to the movies in the first place. The kids hide out in a cluttered prop warehouse on the Universal lot, spending time with an E.T. doll and lounging on the hood of Back to the Future's DeLorean, and "Big Fat Liar" (the movie within the movie) is appropriately derided for being a juvenile piece of garbage dreamed up by a fourteen-year-old on a deadline. The implication that some of summer's boom-crash opera could've sprung from the unformed mind of a precocious tot is almost too possible to be funny.
As is the problem with so many children's films, Big Fat Liar depends fairly heavily on loud noises, cartoon violence, and slapstick. With all the climactic screaming and the running around, it loses a good deal of the goodwill engendered by the charming simplicity of its core message and its sneaky smarts. Still, Big Fat Liar takes pains to feature a multi-racial supporting cast, and it resists the temptation (as Snow Dogs does not) of treeing the black guy and suggesting that he tastes like chicken. Best of all, Big Fat Liar gives Lee Majors an opportunity to reprise his beloved (by me) role as "The Fall Guy"--any film that can survive cameos from Urkel, Screech, and Lee Majors (answering to "Grandpa" and "Father Time") relatively intact deserves credit. Originally published: February 8, 2002.
by Bill Chambers Big Fat Liar arrives on DVD from Universal in full-frame only. I guess that confirms its family-film status, though with an eleven-year-old nephew who whines when I show him a movie that isn't letterboxed, I still think that such studios as Universal and Disney are really underestimating the cinematic savvy of children with transfers that fail to respect the filmmaker's intention. That said, the image looks lovely (that doesn't mean I approve of it), while the accompanying 5.1 mix (in Dolby Digital and DTS) sounds dynamic if, ultimately, like a TV show. Breathless Frankie Muniz contributes a full-length, very screen-specific commentary aimed at the kids (lots o' skateboarding talk); on a second track, director Shawn Levy and cinematographer Jonathan Brown (a participant uncredited within the packaging) discuss editing, camera moves, inspirations, script changes, and the like. Both yakkers serve to hammer home the point that Amanda Bynes is a bona fide star.
A surprisingly non-hyperactive, 11-minute "Spotlight on Location" featurette, during which every actor gets his or her fifteen seconds of fame, plus a 15-minute stretch of deleted scenes (in 1.85:1 widescreen, adding insult to injury) that each revolve around Marty Wolf (poor, gross Dustin Diamond--"Saved by the Bell"'s Screech--lost valuable screen time), a COSMO-style "Are you a Big Fat Liar?" quiz, a preview and cheat code for the PS2 game "Spyro: Enter the Dragon", a trivia challenge, a virtual tour of Universal Studios assisted by clips from Big Fat Liar, Big Fat Liar's theatrical trailer, several pages of DVD recommendations (some with previews), cast and filmmaker bios/filmos, production notes, and ROM weblinks round out the disc. Note: before Big Fat Liar starts, the viewer is forced to watch a commercial for Bynes's new sitcom "What I Like About You" (skip and fast-forward functions have been disabled for it); Bynes is also your personal (and impatient!) tour guide through the menus. Originally published: October 22, 2002.