Eric D. Snider

Big Fat Liar

Even when you factor in the shameless cross-promotion for Universal Studios that permeates every frame of "Big Fat Liar," it's still a pretty decent kid-pleasing, tolerable-to-adults lark of a movie.

14-year-old Jason Shepherd (Frankie Muniz, of TV's "Malcolm in the Middle") is a chronic liar and storyteller; why, he tells three fibs before the movie's even 30 seconds old. He's in the middle of the school food chain, picked on by bigger bullies, but respected by his peers who are not as adept at spinning a yarn as he is.

Due to a series of misfortunes, his English creative writing story -- a somewhat autobiographical fantasy called "Big Fat Liar" -- winds up in the hands of bigshot Hollywood producer Marty Wolf (Paul Giamatti). Next thing you know, Jason and his platonic girl friend Kaylee (Amanda Bynes) are watching a movie trailer for a film that looks suspciously like that story he wrote, lost and never found.

Would a Hollywood producer stoop so low as to steal a story idea from an innocent 14-year-old kid?

Are you at ALL familiar with how Hollywood works?

No one believes Jason, of course, so he and Kaylee head to L.A. to prove it. When Wolf won't cooperate, the kids launch a series of pranks and shenanigans in an attempt to break him down, and to stop production of the movie.

If you're bothered by the fact that Jason and Kaylee see a trailer, featuring scenes from the movie, when shooting hasn't even begun yet, then "Big Fat Liar" is not for you. It's a kid-empowerment flick, and a pretty innocent and simple one. Where it could introduce dozens of Hollywood inside jokes about the making of a movie, it instead keeps it on a level that is accessible to young people.

Another telling moment is the way the kids distract Wolf's secretary so they can sneak past her: They know she's a dog lover, so they phone her and say she has accidentally parked her car on a dog's tail, and could she please come move it. Aren't there a million more plausible things they could have said to get her away from the desk? Yes. But this movie eschews realism for kid-friendly cartoonishness.

Muniz, Bynes and Giamatti all perform with great enthusiasm and conviction -- a must for a young movie like this one, as kids can tell when the performers don't care anymore. I say it's a bad idea to have a villain named Wolf when your protagonist consistently mispronounces that word as "woof," but again, this movie wasn't meant for me.

The message of the film is a little muddy. Allegedly, it's that you shouldn't lie, and Wolf gets punished for doing so. But in the course of bringing him to justice, Jason tells at least as many lies (not the least of which is sneaking off to L.A. in the first place). As educational fare, it's lousy, but as entertainment, the kids will eat it up. Their parents won't mind it, either.

Grade: B

Rated PG, very mild language, slapstick violence

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