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'Big Fat Liar'

'Big Fat Liar' is a fine, funny family film

Friday, February 08, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Jason Shepherd (Frankie Muniz) is neither big nor fat. But he is one heckuva liar.

'Big Fat Liar'

RATED: PG for some language

STARRING: Frankie Muniz, Paul Giamatti

DIRECTOR: Shawn Levy

WEB SITE: www.bigfatliar



When Jason's English teacher catches him climbing in the classroom window (he is late because bullies stole his skateboard), Jason suggests he was opening the window. When she asks him to read his paper, he spins a yarn about how his father choked on a Swedish meatball and was rushed to the emergency room -- which is why he could not complete his assignment. He even pretends to be his dad (aah, the magic of cell phones) when his skeptical teacher calls to verify the incident.

But he's busted later in the day when his parents arrive at the school and learn he did not finish his essay and likely will be sentenced to summer school. The teacher gives him one last chance, and the 14-year-old actually writes a story called "Big Fat Liar."

Rushing to deliver it, he's hit by a limo carrying a sleazy movie producer named Marty Wolf (Paul Giamatti), who is in the Michigan town shooting a cop buddy picture. When Marty finds Jason's essay on the floor of the car, he keeps it and turns it into a screenplay.

When Jason realizes that "Big Fat Liar" is being touted as next summer's must-see film, he talks his best friend, Kaylee (Amanda Bynes), into accompanying him to Hollywood so he can prove to his parents that he really did write his paper and is deserving of their trust.

"Big Fat Liar" follows the youthful pair to Universal Studios where Marty gets his comic comeuppance -- and then some.

"Big Fat Liar" is a little bit "Home Alone," a little bit "Spy Kids" and a little bit "Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles," another movie set partially on a movie lot. It trades on Muniz's innocence and clean-cut appeal, even though he plays a quick-witted schemer, and Giamatti's ability to create a character who is so mean, so insulting and so unethical that any shred of sympathy you have for him evaporates. Bynes, who has her own show on Nickelodeon, is a bright and confident screen presence who complements Muniz. Jason's parents, however, are forgettable and disposable.

As far as family films go, "Big Fat Liar" will do just fine for a wintry afternoon. It's no classic but it's sporadically (and only sporadically) funny, it keeps the Jason-Kaylee relationship platonic and it provides an insider's view of the Universal back lot where you can literally dash from a snowy Christmas scene to a dusty Wild West street.

It makes a case for being truthful, although it might have helped to focus more on Jason's life in Michigan before shipping him off to Los Angeles We don't get to see just how much of a big fat liar he is, before he encounters one even bigger in the town that truth forgot.

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