Everyone who is human has told their share of little white lies. However, it’s that story we were all told as a child about the little boy who cried wolf that keeps us from telling the big ones– you know, the ones we don’t think we could ever get out of. It’s this premise that sets up the story for “Big Fat Liar,” a film that, despite it’s PG-rating, both kids and adults can relate to and enjoy.
“Big Fat Liar” is the story of Jason Shepherd (“Malcolm in the Middle” star Frankie Muniz), a 14-year-old whose biggest talent is his ability to lie. However, the same skill that has gotten him out of numerous sticky situations ends up being the skill that gets him in over his head when Hollywood producer Marty Wolf (Paul Giamatti) steals his school paper and no one believes him. Determined to prove to his parents that he’s telling the truth, Jason travels to Hollywood with his best friend Kaylee (Nickelodeon’s Amanda Bynes) to try and get Marty to call his father and admit that his new summer blockbuster came from the mind of a 14-year-old. When he refuses to call, Jason declares war to not only get back the rights of his story, but to prove once and for all that sometimes the world’s greatest liar has the ability to be honest, too.
While older audiences may not see a film like “Big Fat Liar” unless they have kids in the family, adults and teens alike will be pleasantly surprised by how mature the film is. Screenwriter Dan Schneider (Dennis from “Head of the Class”) writes a smart family comedy that never dumbs itself down for its youngest viewers. Granted there are a few scenes that may seem a bit too childish for those over the age of 15– one scene where Jason and Kaylee spend the night in a Universal prop warehouse runs way too long– but these scenes are limited and intended to keep the youngest audience members in their seats (and it works). For the most part though, the humor in the movie works on numerous levels so that there is something for everyone. In fact, in two of the funniest scenes in the film, former TV icons Dustin Diamond and Jaleel White (better known to millions as Screech and Urkel) make brief but memorable appearances as themselves. Any film that can incorporate not one but two of TV’s most famous nerds gets my vote of approval.
As smart as “Big Fat Liar” is though, part of its irresistibility comes from its cast. As usual, Paul Giamatti (“Private Parts,” “Man on the Moon”) is hilarious as the evil producer with little to no soul. Giamatti has no boundaries to what he won’t do, which is perfect for a younger audience always entertained by visual gags. However, Giamatti is also a great actor and this is what will entertain the adults. No matter what he does he never crosses that fine line of believability, and that’s what makes his character realistic for those over the age of 12.
The true stars of “Big Fat Liar” though are Frankie Muniz and Amanda Bynes. Muniz proves to those who questioned his recent Emmy nomination what a talented young actor he is as Jason Shepherd. While the role doesn’t stray away too much from his part on “Malcolm in the Middle”– both characters are intelligent and mischievous– it does let Muniz depart a bit from relying on a cast to help him carry a show by putting more of the responsibility on him. Muniz takes this newfound responsibility with ease though and shows signs of being a true leading child actor in the process. Nevertheless, it’s Bynes who steals the show whenever she’s on-screen. Bynes is simply outstanding as Jason’s best friend Kaylee, and she uses her background as a sketch comedy artist on “The Amanda Show” to develop a wide arrange of voices and mannerisms for her character. Viewers will be astounded by the amount of talent the 15-year-old has, and those unfamiliar with her past work will quickly be able to understand why she has been compared to comedians like Tracey Ullman and Lucille Ball.
When all is said and done, it takes a well-written script and a talented cast to make any type of film worth watching, both of which “Big Fat Liar” has. One can only hope that Frankie Muniz is a big enough draw to attract older viewers to the film, for it would be a shame for them to miss out on one of the more enjoyable family films of the year simply because it looks like a movie only kids would like. Whether you are 10 years-old or 110, “Big Fat Liar” is a hilarious film for anyone who remembers lying as a kid– and anyone who wants to see a movie that’s just plain fun.