why Cranky is in pain
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Starring Jim Carrey, Maura Tierney, Jennifer Tilley and Justin Cooper
Screenplay by Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur
Directed by Tom Shadyac

There's a very intelligent and cleverly written gag that opens Liar Liar, the new flick from rubber-faced man Jim Carrey. His son Max (Justin Cooper) sits in a preschool class while all the other kids tell what their parents do for a living. Max tells the class that his dad is a "liar." When asked to explain, he describes the job of a lawyer, just a minor pronunciation step and a fistful of gags away. Not only does the obvious parallel lead to the usual gamut of Carrey physical humor, but the screenplay by Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur lets rip more than a few intelligently dialogued gags.

That "liar -- lawyer" gag is the only one I'll give away, but I lay it out for an important reason. Under the supervision of producer Brian Grazer (Ron Howard's partner) and director Tom Shadyac (whose first job was as a joke writer for Bob Hope and who previously worked with Carrey on Ace Ventura: Pet Detective), Carrey's humor is more focused and, dare I say it, funnier than it has been in quite a while.

That, for Cranky, points back to a lot of characters that Carrey developed for the television series In Living Color, for Cranky just doesn't like Jim Carrey's movie work. The sole exception was his performance as the Riddler in Batman Forever which, considering how much I disliked the flick, says a lot.

Fletcher Reede (Carrey) is a lawyer whose life is a mess. He lies to his family. He lies to his clients. He lies to his fellow workers in the upscale L.A. law firm where he toils. You see a lot of this in the first 20 minutes, but all the lies are white. Else, they're legal twists and turns of divorce law where almost anything goes.

The rubber face and weird vocal effects work well because there is a five year old boy to bounce them off. Reede has got to be super-Dad, because he is divorced and so wrapped up in making partner that he continually misses visits with his son. The few he visits he makes so delight Max that the excuses tossed for each missed appointment hurt all the more. The result is that Max, so upset by his father's missing a birthday party, wishes that daddy couldn't tell a lie for one day. The wish comes true, and Fletcher's life goes to hell in a handbasket.

Then comes the good part. Finally, Carrey's stuck in his throat vocal gags and facial contortions are focussed on a specific problem - how not to say a word ('cuz every word he says will sink him deeper into the muck). The physical gags are what you've come to expect. The written gags, and the way Carrey plays off of them, will shatter even a granite visage -- like Cranky's.

I had to start counting because something very unusual happened while watching Liar Liar. Cranky laughed out loud. Seven full throated belly laughs. At least a dozen giggles and twice as many chuckles, and two very evil sounding Cranky laughs (which start down in the gut and sort of go heh-heh-heh in a rapidly repeating sequence that rises up in tone and register. Vincent Price used to do these well, if you can remember that far back).

The rest of the flick exists to let Carrey let loose. Jennifer Tilley plays her, by now, generic ditzy blonde sex fiend character. Maura Tierney (of TV's Newsradio) is the frayed ex-wife whose boyfriend sets a yuppie-parent-guilt subplot in motion. It's all topped off with a wicked parody of the old man-chasing-train-to-declare-his-love gimmick. When you get to it you'll know and, if you haven't busted a gut, you should have been more than gently amused.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Liar Liar, he would have paid . . .

$3.00

But then again, I haven't liked any of his previous solo efforts. If you're a Carrey fan (and I certainly hope you're not like the guy next to me, who kicked out the laughing jams every time Carrey broke a promise to his kid. Feh.) you shouldn't be disappointed. If you're not a fan of the previous Carrey laff-fests, you'll have little trouble sitting through this one. I didn't.

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