As part of a research paper, I decided to go check out one comedy and one horror film (horror film TBD) and follow the audience reactions. I had thought about watching The Informant, but ended up seeing Ricky Gervais' The Invention of Lying, which is a pleasant but reasonably formulaic romantic comedy with a packed cast.
If you haven't heard anything about the film, Gervais plays Mark Bellison, an ordinary schlub who lives in a world where everyone tells the truth. Nobody lies, and in fact there is no word for lying because no one's ever done it. Until Bellison inexplicably does it. And then keeps doing it.
There are a lot of good ideas that Invention plays with, but none of them ever end up going anywhere because of how hard the film tries to shoehorn in the romantic storyline involving Mark and Anna McDoogles (Jennifer Garner). Among the worthwhile tangents this film could have followed but didn't are: how lying revolutionizes movie-making in this world, the invention of religion (which is a MAJOR part of the middle of the film only to become a really minor reference by the end), and the actual ramifications of being the only person capable of lying in a world that always takes what's said at face value.
The Invention of Lying starts telling all of these stories, but eventually all of them fall by the wayside in favor of a "don't just take everything at face value" message that's really only designed to be between Mark and Anna. Rob Lowe plays a totally superfluous character who, by all rights, should disappear around the time Mark sells his first script to Lecture Films, but instead is rammed in as an artificial wedge between our leads. It feels forced, as does a lot of the second half of Invention of Lying. It's as though the first half of the script was stitched together with a by-the-numbers romantic comedy and unleashed upon an audience expecting a more insightful film.
Which is a shame, by the way, because there are so many talented comedians in this film. Lots of them don't have much more to do than walk on, say one or two lines, and leave. For example, Jonah Hill's character wanders in and out of the picture with no rhyme or reason. Louis C.K. is funny in the early goings but eventually becomes another plot device by the end. And these are the "larger" roles.
Additionally you'll find cameos or cameo-like appearances from Tina Fey, Edward Norton, Christopher Guest, John Hodgman, Stephen Merchant, Jeffery Tambour, Nathan Corddry, Jason Bateman, Bobby Moynihan, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Fey's character disappears at roughly the same time Rob Lowe's character should have, and many of these folks appear long enough for you to say "oh, look it's ____!"
Gervais is good, and when the film stops being funny for a while to deal with death and the invention of the afterlife and The Man in the Sky, things look like they could go a little deeper than surface level. There are some great sight gags involving things being exactly what they are (like the retirement home, or "A Sad Place for Hopeless Old People"). Ultimately I feel like The Invention of Lying is a great idea in a halfway good movie. The film just never lives up to notions it sets up, and instead settles to be every romantic comedy ever, but slightly more British.
I'm really hoping that I can watch the horror movie in a $1.50 theatre, and preferably Halloween 2, because that's the perfect wedding of audience with film. Keep your fingers crossed, gang.