Ricky Gervais Discovers The Truth About 'Lying' The Invention of Lying imagines a world where untruths are unknown and art is almost impossible. Until Ricky Gervais discovers both. Although white lies can be a blessing, critic Bob Mondello observes that silence, also, has its virtues.
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Ricky Gervais Discovers The Truth About 'Lying'

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Ricky Gervais Discovers The Truth About 'Lying'



Ricky Gervais Discovers The Truth About 'Lying'

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Here's something that could help make for a good weekend. Ricky Gervais, the British comedian who created and starred in �The Office� for the BBC, has a new movie opening today. It's called �The Invention of Lying.� How inventive is it? We asked movie truth-teller Bob Mondello.

BOB MONDELLO: Imagine a world where no one has ever told an untruth. In fact, there aren't even words for truth or untruth. People just say what is, always, which makes social interaction a little awkward.

(Soundbite of film, �The Invention of Lying�)

Mr. RICKY GERVAIS (Actor): (As Mark Bellison) Morning, Shelley.

Ms. TINA FEY (Actor): (As Shelley) Hi, Mark. I realize more and more every day how overqualified I am for this position and how incompetent you are at yours.

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Mark) Any messages?

Ms. FEY: (As Shelley) Anthony is coming up within the hour to see if he can get up the courage to fire you. If he can't, he said that he'll definitely do it tomorrow.

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Mark) Anything else?

MONDELLO: Mark, who's played by Ricky Gervais as an amiable shlub, works as a movie screenwriter. And it's one of the film's nicer conceits that with no concept of fiction, movies would be a little dry. So would advertisements. Coke: It's sugar water. Blind dates, on the other hand, with a lovely Jennifer Garner, have their moments.

(Soundbite of film, �The Invention of Lying�)

(Soundbite of phone ringing)

Ms. JENNIFER GARNER (Actor): (As Anna McDoogles) Sorry, it's my mom. I think she's probably checking on the date. It won't take long. Hello? Yes, I'm with him right now. No, not very attractive. No, doesn't make much money. He's all right, though. He seems nice, kind of funny. No, I won't be sleeping with him tonight. OK, you too, bye.

MONDELLO: Mark's own mother is slipping away in a retirement home, where the sign reads: A sad place where homeless old people come to die. She's frightened of death, actually, figuring it's oblivion, but Mark has just discovered that he is the only person on Earth who can make things up. So he makes up an afterlife, tells her she'll be happy there. And because no one lies, she dies with a smile. Then, Mark looks up and sees the doctors and nurses looking stunned. They want details. So Mark has to, basically, invent religion on the spot. He says there's a man in the sky who takes care of folks who've died and who's also responsible for everything on Earth. Even my cancer? wonders someone, and his story has to get more complicated.

Now, the implication that organized religion wouldn't exist unless people could lie is pretty bold for a mainstream comedy, and if the film pursued that notion more vigorously, �Invention of Lying� might be pretty bold itself. But having set up the situation, the filmmakers more or less abandon idea-based comedy and settle for romantic comedy.

(Soundbite of film, �The Invention of Lying�)

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Mark) I'm different now. I think I'm in your league.

Ms. GARNER: (As Anna) Are you better looking?

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Mark) No, more powerful.

Ms. GARNER: (As Anna) Did you buy new clothes?

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Mark) No, sorry, can we just meet up?

MONDELLO: Pleasant enough, but a letdown if you're hoping for edgy truth-telling from the guy who created TV's �Extras.� Most of �Invention of Lying's� laughs actually stray from the film's premise. They're not so much about people speaking truly as about people speaking rudely.

(Soundbite of film, �The Invention of Lying�)

Mr. ROB LOWE (Actor): (As Brad Kessler) I've always hated you.

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Mark) You've always�

Mr. LOWE: (As Brad) �hated you.

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Mark) I didn't know that.

Mr. LOWE: (As character) Yeah, a lot of people know it.

MONDELLO: And so it goes, some gags landing, others lazy enough that even a bunch of A-listers like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ed Norton can't do much with them. Ricky Gervais can, of course, and in his scenes with Jennifer Garner, he does quite a lot. Still, if the truth be told, by the end of �Invention of Lying,� even his invention is starting to flag.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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