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Big Fat Liar

Starring Frankie Muniz and Amanda Bynes; Paul Giamatti, Jaleel White, Lee Majors
Story by Dan Schneider & Brian Robbins
Screenplay by Dan Schneider
Directed by Shawn Levy

IN SHORT: Under 15? A giggle a minute. Over age 15? Big Fat Waste of Time. [Rated PG for some language. minutes]

There's a reason why we watch the audience -- films like Big Fat Liar are it. What begins as a reasonable, if reasonably far fetched, story of a picked on Michigan based fourteen year old student who lies to avoid confrontations escalates beyond believability with such speed that, if you blink, you'll find yourself in alien territory -- Hollywood.

Jason Shepherd (Frankie Muniz, sporting all the looks of his Malcolm in the Middle character without the support of any clever gags in this film's script) has failed to write a 1000 word creative piece for his English class. He goes to great lengths -- far beyond "my dog ate it" to explain why the assignment wasn't finished on time, and is given one last chance to get the work done. His English teacher (Sandra Oh) allows the lad three hours to write the story -- the subject he chooses is semi-autobiographical, about the world's biggest liar -- and get it to her at the community center where she teaches English as a Second Language after school. If he fails, summer school awaits.

Well, the kidlet gets the paper written and, in his rush to meet his deadline, barrels a borrowed bicycle head first into the stretch limo of Hollywood power producer Marty Wolf (Paul Giamatti), a real piece of nasty work. Avoiding a lawsuit, Wolf lets the limo deliver Jason to his destination, but the kid leaves the story in the car. No one, teacher and parents included, believes this story and Jason is sentenced to summer school. Wolf heads for Hollywood and, the next thing you know it, Jason and his femme friend Kaylee (Amanda Bynes) are seeing preview trailers for Big Fat Liar ("coming next summer") at the local theater. Both kidlets have been abandoned by their parents; Kaylee is in the care of a blind, senile grandma (boy, ain't that a knee-slapper!) and Jason has enough cash saved up that he can fly them to LA to get the producer to call dad and set the record straight. Ducking off the Universal Studios tour, the pair set up shop in a costume/scenery warehouse (a great place for a music video!) and have more fun than at Disneyland! And then, it's time to talk turkey with Mr. Wolf. Who, as most Hollywood producers will do, lies and humiliates the kid and kicks the boy out of the office. To his credit, he does offer the 14 year old a nice illegal Havana stogie.

OK, so Jason is naive. Anyone watching Nickelodeon (which is where Ms. Bynes is a star) would know that there are big bucks in Hollywood. Jason is a naive sap who, when he is humiliated again and again in LA, sets out to get gentle, kidlet like revenge on the nasty, evil producer. Luckily, the nasty, evil producer has pissed off everyone in Hollywood, so a multi-million dollar scheme fit for a Mission: Impossible move (sans Cruise) is pulled off in less time than it takes to read this paragraph. Joining in The Game of Liar, Liar (points to all adults so bored that they can point to all the, uh, homages in the script) are teevee stars Steve Urkel, um, Jaleel White, and Lee Majors looking none the worse for wear stripped of this six million dollar bionics.

But nothing in the Hollywood section of this film makes any sense to anyone who prefers logic and some sort of structure in their stories. Let's recap: Jason and Kaylee are tipped to the ripoff when they see a trailer, complete with scenes from the film, in their local movie house. Yet when they get to LA, (the entire story is based on the fact that) there is no film, there is no finished story, and there is no finished script without which the studio won't approve a budget to begin filming in the first place! By messing up Wolf and the production operation, our kidlets win the day.

We know the kidlets in our family. We know how the kidlets in our audience reacted. We know that Big Fat Liar isn't the total boring disaster (from this adult's POV) that Snow Dogs was but it's still going to do business since there's nothing in it that should have parents worried about nasty influences like bad language or spurting blood violence. An earlier generation of critics would call Big Fat Liar a comic book move -- but this generation (meaning me) knows comics and they're a helluva lot better written, and in some cases excessively violent and curse-filled, than this kidlet fare. Big Fat Liar, for all its visual flash and reality-free storyline, is fairly gentle and inoffensive. There's no reason not to park the kids and wander off for a hot dog, or to check out whatever is playing at cineplexes 2 - 96.

Get through it once, though, 'cuz your kids are going to be demanding the video when it hits. You know what happens then . . .

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