by Mark Leeper
Mark Leeper writes: I am a lifelong fan of science fiction--well, at least since age 6. By training I am a mathematician and mathematics is still a passion of mine. I joined Bell Laboratories in 1978, along with my wife Evelyn. Finding no outlet for science fiction at Bell Labs, Evelyn and I founded a science fiction club that same year and have run it ever since. We had to tell members what books we were reading for the club, so was born a notice, now a weekly publication called the MT VOID. I write a weekly editorial and film reviews for the notice, Evelyn writes book reviews and we both write other odd pieces. Having the reviews and assorted articles, we also re-post them to the Internet. From there they are reposted various and sundry places.
The Daytrippers -- Anaconda
Liar Liar -- Grosse Pointe Blank
stars in a morality comedy
about the value of veracity and the price of prevarication.
A lawyer finds his own son has cursed him to speak
nothing but the truth for one whole day. A little bit
of the Carrey personality goes a long way and too much
of it steals what just a bit would have given the film.
The script seems a bit inconsistent about just what are the
terms of the curse.
Rating: high 0 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 12 positive, 0 negative, 7 mixed
LIAR LIAR is basically a retread of a 1961 episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. In that story Jack Carson played a lying used car dealer Harvey Hunnicut who bought a car that came equipped with a curse. Whoever owned the car could speak only the truth. Carson made a few contorted faces as he tried to force himself to lie to customers but eventually had to give in to the acceptance that the curse really worked on him. Eventually he was able to become a double winner not just because he sold the car to someone else: the person he sold it to was Nikita Krushchev, Premier of the Soviet Union. A similar concept was used in THE WHOLE TRUTH, in which Bob Hope agrees to tell the truth for a whole day. LIAR LIAR is, however, much closer to the TWILIGHT ZONE story, with the lying profession changed from used car salesman to an unscrupulous lying lawyer. The sorrowful or bewildered facial gestures Carson gave his Hunnicut character. But the facial gestures are exaggerated by Jim Carrey into, well, what we would expect from Jim Carrey.
Carrey plays Fletcher Reede, not just a lawyer but the paragon of lying lawyers. Fletcher makes his living by subverting the truth. And what he does in his professional life he does in his private life. With cheating and lies he destroyed his marriage to his former wife Audrey (Maura Tierney) and is in the process of alienating their son Max (Justin Cooper). Fletcher has promised to be at Max's fifth birthday party and is instead in bed with his boss (Amanda Donohoe of LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM) trying to screw his way to the top. The disappointed Max makes a wish that his father cannot lie for a whole day. And the wish comes true, on a day when Fletcher needs to be a skillful professional liar Fletcher discovers that only the truth can issue from him mouth.
LIAR LIAR could have had a deeper resonance if its positive statements were not always undermined by what is just too much slapstick. The film was directed by Tom Shadyac of ACE VENTURA and THE NUTTY PROFESSOR where it really needed someone of the caliber of Billy Wilder. In addition, it builds to an action-packed finale that goes too far beyond what is really needed for this sort of material. Again the subtlety of Wilder could have worked wonders. But for me the real problem with LIAR LIAR is that the scriptwriters, Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur, are never sure of the ground rules of the premise and so the audience is never sure either. What exactly is the wish all about? Supposedly it was that Fletcher cannot tell a lie for twenty-four hours, but what does that mean? Does it mean that he can or cannot evade the truth? Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes no. Can he remain silent or does he have to always be candid? Is a promise made in good faith and then later broken intentionally the same thing as a lie? For that matter is a promise made in good faith and broken due to uncontrollable circumstances the same thing as a lie? Do the same forces that compel truth from Fletcher bend fate so that what he has promised will come inevitably true? These are all questions that should have been answered before the first word of the script was typed. There were moments in this story when a truthful answer of "I really would not want to answer that question right at this moment" would have been the logical way out of Fletcher's current problem when he instead seems compelled to give an overly candid response.
In addition something not required by the premise are the over- the-top rubber-faced expressions from Carrey who breaks through to telling the truth like he is smashing through a physical barrier. It would not be a Jim Carrey film without some of this, but as he usually does he carries a good thing too far. Carrey is amusing, but his antics get in the way of the viewer getting any real feeling out of his part. Implied, but never fully developed, is that the most important effect of the curse on his character is that he can no longer lie to himself. By just being honest with himself he achieves a new level of self-understanding that allows him to put his life in order. The script makes another ironic point. While the film shows how much damage Fletcher has done with his lies, some of his lies have had positive effects. His uncontrollable candor hurts people who relied on some of his little fibs to bolster their egos. Telling the truth to everybody is almost as destructive as lying was.
With a little more concentration on the script and a little more subdued Carrey, this could have been a much better film. As it is, it gets a high 0 on the -4 to +4 scale.
More info about Liar Liar at the Internet Movie Database
BLANK is not sure if it
wants to be a deep allegory or a comedic action
film. John Cusack plays a freelance assassin-for-
hire who returns home to attend his ten-year high
school reunion and rekindles the romance he walked
out on a decade before. The dialogue is smooth but
neither it nor the characters nor the plot seem to
be believable for any place in this solar system.
Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 12 positive, 2 negative, 2 mixed
The last film I saw with such hip yet unrealistic dialog had Kenneth Branagh looking for revenge on his own uncle for the murder of his father. This is another smoothly written but violent tale of a man in his twenties dressed in black who is seeking something different in his life, but there the resemblance ends. John Cusack is Martin Blank, who has been out of high school for ten years, the last five of which he has been a professional assassin. Like Sam Spade he works out of a dingy office where he is tended by a mothering secretary. It might have been fun to see a steamy relationship between him and his secretary, but I think that the American public might not have been ready for that given that his secretary was played by sister Joan Cusack. Martin's profession throughout is treated almost as just another job. His chief competitor is Mr. Grocer (Dan Aykroyd) a cheerful killer who is trying to organize all the assassins and hit men into a sort of a union so they could do less work for more money, but would have to attend meetings.
At the near insistence of his secretary he decides to attend his ten-year class reunion in the posh Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe. Reticent at first, he decides he will combine questionable business with dubious pleasure by performing a contract hit in the same area. So off he goes to the reunion, but one of his first stops is to see his old girl friend Debi Newberry (Minnie Driver) who now is best known in Grosse Pointe as the host of a local radio program, making strange elliptical comments on the music. When the two of them get together, it is going to be a bizarre weekend.
Of course, bizarre is the word for Martin and just about everybody he knows. To anybody who asks what he does for a living, Martin very openly admits he kills people. The response is always a quip and at first it seems that nobody is taking him very seriously. However, when he kills somebody late in the film, a high school buddy very matter- of-factly helps him dispose of the body apparently without giving it a second thought, as if he was helping Martin change a tire. Often there seems to be logic missing in the plot, but then plot frequently seems to be only a vessel for the clever dialogue. Not that what people say makes sense all the time either. The dialogue, like that in PULP FICTION, is stylized, but somehow it never has the same spark and sometimes just seems to be forced filler. "What do you want in your omelet?" "Nothing." "Well, that technically is not an omelet." The line is neither accurate, realistic, nor funny. But what can we expect from a production company called "Caravan Pictures," and whose logo is a solitary man walking down a road? Unlike in PULP FICTION we feel we are listening in on people who are all style and no substance.
Some of the films better moments occur when the two Cusacks (John and Joan--actually there are at least two more in the credits) play off of each other. It perhaps gives us a feel for what it must have been like in the Cusack household. The screenplay credits John for some of the writing, though it might well be for ad libbed quips. Minnie Driver has a little less of the likable quality she generally exudes due to being just a bit too smooth, much like her father, played by Mitchell Ryan. (Ryan, incidentally, has the distinction of playing in three unrelated major films showing at the same time--THE DEVIL'S OWN and LIAR LIAR.) Alan Arkin has a small part as Martin's analyst, but comes off the most humane as the only person who seems really disturbed by the fact that Martin kills people.
Like most its characters GROSSE POINT BLANK is uneven, hard to believe, occasionally funny, but has too much style and not enough substance. These are people who are thinking more about their next clever comment than they are about killing. The film is entertaining, but its flippant attitude toward murder leaves a bad taste. The film gets a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.
More info about Grosse Point Blank at the Internet Movie Database