Although Jim Carrey wasn’t desperate for a hit in the spring of 1997, he sure could have used one to regain his prior box office preeminence. After he had his first hit with 1994’s Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Carrey experienced a terrific run of success, as each of his subsequent flicks made buckets of money. Ace took in a very solid $72 million, while each of his next four releases - 1994’s The Mask and Dumb and Dumber and 1995’s Batman Forever and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls - grossed more than $100 million.
And then there was 1996’s The Cable Guy. This flick showcased a darker side of Carrey, and although its $60 million gross wasn’t horrible, it came as a severe disappointment after the prior movies, especially since Carrey took home an extremely high salary for the picture. The Carrey mystique seemed to have been ruptured, and all eyes were on his next release, 1997’s Liar Liar, to see if he could regain his audience.
The answer was “yes”, and in a big way. With a take of $181 million, Liar Liar went on to become the fourth biggest-grossing film of 1997. That may not sound that great, but when one considers the three flicks above it - Titanic, Men In Black and The Lost World - it becomes more clear how well it really did.
Of Carrey’s movies, LL sits behind only Batman Forever and 2000’s The Grinch on the top-grosser chart. However, I’d argue that LL was the biggest hit that relied mainly on Carrey’s presence. Did his appearances in Grinch and BF help pad the box office receipts? I’m sure they did, but both flicks already maintained a strong level of product identification. They were known quantities to a great degree, and while that didn’t mean they couldn’t bomb, it made them less likely to flop.
Liar Liar, on the other hand, wasn’t a sequel and it wasn’t a remake. It was a fully original production, and one that I believe probably would have been significantly less successful without Carrey. I can imagine Grinch and BF with others in Carrey’s parts, but I find it impossible to consider LL with anyone else as the lead.
In Liar Liar, Carrey plays Fletcher Reede, an unscrupulous attorney with a truth problem. He’s a chronic liar who can’t keep promises. This resulted in the collapse of his marriage to ex-wife Audrey (Maura Tierney) and it strains his relationship with son Max (Justin Cooper); the boy clearly adores his Dad, but Fletcher’s many broken commitments are starting to wear on the kid’s patience and self-esteem.
When Fletcher fails to make it to Max’s fifth birthday party, the glum youngster makes a special wish as he blows out the candles on his cake: he hopes that his Dad won’t be able to lie. Immediately, this dream takes effect, as Fletcher discovers with catastrophic results. The remainder of the film follows Fletcher as he copes with his inability to be anything other than honest, and he inevitably learns many lessons about himself and the poor way in which he’s led his life.
During this DVD’s supplements, we never hear if the producers considered anyone other than Carrey for the part of Fletcher. I suppose they must have done so, for never did I get the impression it was created specifically for him. However, this was one of those flicks that seems to be unimaginable with anyone else in the lead. To say that Carrey was perfect for the part would be an understatement. No, he didn’t provide the world’s most realistic acting, but let’s not forget that this is a fantasy; a great deal of comedic license can be permitted.
One can argue the merits of Carrey’s dramatic performances in movies like The Truman Show or Man On the Moon, but I feel that Liar Liar offers his best work. While he showed similar comic shenanigans in other efforts, never did he provide so much inventiveness. As director Tom Shadyac noted in his audio commentary, much of the film depicted Fletcher’s agonized responses to his truthfulness. This joke should have gotten old within 15 minutes of the first instance, but amazingly, Carrey kept it fresh and amusing from start to finish.
For many years, I resisted the charms of Carrey, as his extremely over-the-top personality didn’t do much for me. The barriers started to drop with The Mask, but Liar Liar was the film that made me wholly accept his skills. I still can’t say that I’m a huge fan of his work, but I’m definitely fonder of him than I was a few years ago.
Without Carrey, I can’t imagine that LL would have been anything other than a dud. The story itself was inherently sappy, and even Carrey couldn’t quite pull off the sentimental scenes between father and son. As Max, Cooper actually did a decent job; he seemed more honest and less cloying than I expected. However, I must acknowledge a deep hatred of that giant bowl-headed haircut he displayed; why do so many movie kids feature that ‘do? It exists almost nowhere else in nature!
Although she often played straight-woman to Carrey, Tierney more than held her own, and she nicely grounded the story. When allowed her own comic moments, she did quite well; check out the bits between her and boyfriend Jerry (Carey Elwes) toward the end of the film. One question, though: is it just me, or are Tierney and Jennifer Aniston actually the same person?
Director Tom Shadyac is a man of questionable comedic judgment, as he often seems to prefer lowest-common-denominator material. He has a spotty track record; 1994’s Ace Ventura worked just because of Carrey, and 1996’s The Nutty Professor also benefited greatly from the presence of Eddie Murphy. Conversely, with Robin Williams in his smarmy, self-righteous mode, Patch Adams collapsed to the level of abysmal treacle. I get the feeling that Shadyac basically lets his stars do their thing and doesn’t interfere a tremendous amount, which is why these different films have all varied so greatly based on their leads. In any case, this style worked well for Liar Liar, as its star’s unbridled insanity carried the day.
I’ve seen Liar Liar five or six times over the last few years, and it still makes me laugh out loud every time I watch it. Frankly, that’s not an easy thing to do; I’m rather picky about my comedy, and even when I like a project, I probably won’t actually chortle too much. However, Jim Carrey nails his part so perfectly in this flick that I just can’t help myself. It’s hard to imagine many more inventive and creative performances, as Carrey single-handedly makes Liar Liar a fun and hilarious film.
Liar Liar appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the movie remained consistently watchable, it displayed more problems than I expected from a recent flick.
Sharpness generally seemed good, as most of the movie looked fairly crisp and well-defined. Interiors suffered at times, however, as they could appear somewhat soft and fuzzy, and other wide shots also showed these mild concerns. Moiré effects cropped up at times, but I saw no problems related to jagged edges. Print flaws stayed modest, but they seemed a little heavy based on the film’s vintage. I saw light grain during much of the movie, and various examples of grit and speckles also appeared. More significant defects like scratches, hairs or blotches failed to materialize, but I still found the problems to be heavier than I’d like.
Colors usually looked reasonably accurate and natural, as the movie featured a fairly realistic palette. Interiors again caused some concerns, as those shots appeared somewhat more flat and drab, but as a whole, I felt the hues were acceptably vivid and distinct. Black levels seemed to be fairly deep, and shadow detail often looked appropriately clear and visible, though those interiors could seem mildly murky. Ultimately, Liar Liar provided a decent image that did little to rise above the crowd.
Similar sentiments existed for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Liar Liar. Throughout much of the film, this was an exceedingly subdued soundfield. For the most part, music offered the main elements that emanated from areas other than the forward center channel. Otherwise the movie stuck mainly with general ambience, though some modest panning and localization occurred at times; for example, cars moved adequately from side to side. Surround usage seemed to be even more limited; the music was reinforced in the rear, but little other activity occurred back there.
One major exception existed, and that segment was the only thing that kept the audio of LL in “B” territory. The movie’s climax took place at an airport and involved a jet. This part of the film became quite active and involving, as the various elements nicely occupied the spectrum. Without this section, the soundfield would have remained dishwater dull, but these few minutes of excitement helped redeem it.
As for the audio quality, it seemed to be fairly good, though a few concerns appeared. Speech showed reasonable warmth but dialogue often suffered from excessively edgy tones. The lines always remained intelligible, but they seemed to be more distorted than I’d like, and this issue cropped up through most of the movie. On the other hand, effects sounded nicely clean and dynamic, especially during the airport shots, where I heard rich and vibrant elements. Music also seemed to be robust and lively, as the score presented deep and bold pieces. Ultimately, Liar Liar offered a generally unexceptional soundtrack that contained some flaws but still had enough going for it to merit a “B-“.
This Collector’s Edition of Liar Liar includes some good supplements, and we begin with a very solid audio commentary from director Tom Shadyac. He provides a wealth of interesting information during this running, screen-specific track. Despite my misgivings about some of his films, he offers an engaging and entertaining presence that made this commentary a consistent treat.
Early in the track, Shadyac relates that he has tons of material he wants to discuss for each scene, and it quickly becomes clear that this wasn’t an idle boast. He tosses in scads of fun production anecdotes, most of which concern the film’s wild star. He covers his impressions of working with Carrey and how he has to keep everything together in the face of the performer’s style. He also discusses his theories of comedy filmmaking and goes over a lot of other issues related to the field.
At times, Shadyac tends to go spout a lot of remarks about how wonderful everyone was. Normally I hate those aspects of commentaries; too many tracks turn into lovefests that lack any sense of realism. While Shadyac doesn’t mention any real problems on the set, I actually felt that his enthusiasm helps make these remarks seem genuine and not problematic. Ultimately, Shadyac’s commentary was very fun and compelling; he includes a wealth of strong facts about the film, and I really enjoyed his discussion. By the way, you’ll definitely want to stay with the track through its conclusion; toward the end of the movie, we learn of an interesting cameo that I never would have seen otherwise.
One sidenote: I’d previously listened to this commentary via the old Collector’s Edition laserdisc. I could have sworn that Shadyac attended the University of Virginia and that he indicated this during this track. I was wrong; maybe Shadyac did go to UVa, but if so, he never stated this. Help me out here, folks - am I insane or is there a current, at least semi-notable director who also attended UVa?
Bridging the Comedy Chasm provides a short featurette about Liar Liar. For the most part, this 16-minute and five-second program functions as a standard, semi-promotional puff piece. It combines the usual mix of film clips, shots from the set, and cast and crew interviews. For the latter, we here from director Shadyac, producer Brian Grazer, and actors Carrey, Maura Tierney, Justin Cooper and Jennifer Tilly.
For the most part, we mainly hear fluffy comments about how great everyone was, but Carrey’s presence makes the show worthwhile. He adds some funny shtick from the set, and his interview snippets also provide some witty material; his tongue-in-cheek discussion of the plot - in which he alludes to a slew of other then-recent films - gets a little old, but as a whole, his statements are still quite amusing. His antics on the set also seem entertaining, and all of these elements make “Chasm” a very enjoyable program. As a documentary, it doesn’t do its job, but as a piece of entertainment, it works well. Bits that should have made the cutting room floor: the cloying Carrey impression done by young Cooper. Speaking of cutting, would someone please explain to me what the deal is with Grazer’s haircut? This guy’s produced boohoogles of hits; it’s time to lose the Flowbie, Brian!
The Photo Gallery includes a whopping 212 images. These mostly come from the set and fit into the “production still” category, but we also find some outtakes from a couple of deleted scenes, and there are a lot of representations of the movie’s ad campaign. The DVD’s sole Deleted Scene is an interesting one, though it would have been unnecessary within the framework of the finished film. This three-minute, 55-second clip would have showcased Fletcher’s legal - and lying - skills early in the movie, and though it’s a very fun piece, we quickly learn of his dishonest nature, so it wouldn’t have added anything to the finished product.
I must admit I’m disappointed that we only got the one deleted scene. As I noted, we see stills from an addition unused segment in the “Photo Gallery”. That piece shows Fletcher and Max at a pro wrestling match. Why didn’t this snippet appear on the DVD? We never hear an explanation for its absence.
Some additional unutilized footage does make the disc, however, as we find 95 seconds of Outtakes. These are pretty standard fare, but Carrey’s presence makes them more enjoyable than usual.
In addition to the movie’s Theatrical Trailer, we get some text materials. Cast and Filmmakers gives us fairly good biographies of director Shadyac, producer Grazer, and actors Carrey, Tierney, Carey Elwes, Swoosie Kurtz, Jennifer Tilly, Justin Cooper, and Amanda Donohoe. Shadyac’s listing also includes trailers for The Nutty Professor and Patch Adams. Production Notes add some reasonably detailed and interesting facts about the film; these also appear in abbreviated form within the DVD’s booklet.
As one of Universal’s Collector’s Editions, Liar Liar is a modest disappointment; other entries in that series such as 12 Monkeys, Apollo 13 and Field of Dreams included much more substantial extras. However, as a whole I really liked this package. LL stands as easily the best film directed by Tom Shadyac, and it’s probably the most satisfying Jim Carrey flick yet; nowhere else does he showcase his talents to such terrific effect. The DVD offers decent but unspectacular picture and sound, and the package of extras was similarly good but not special. Nonetheless, in the case of Liar Liar, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, so I definitely recommend this fun DVD.
Note that Liar Liar can be found in a number of different DVD forms. There are three separate releases of the film. First we got a fullscreen “movie-only” version in January 1998. A similar edition out a year later, as we received a DVD that duplicated the original except for the inclusion of a DTS 5.1 soundtrack. Finally, the CE reviewed here hit the streets in October 1999.
Without question, I feel that the CE is the one to get. However, even then the question remains a little muddled due to some “software bundling”. On its own, the CE lists for $34.98. Two double-DVD packages change the equation, though. One includes LL and Carrey’s Man On the Moon; it hit the streets in October 2000, and it retails for $49.98. That’s a decent price if you want both movies, as they total when purchased almost $60 separately.
A different double-pack offers the best deal, though. A combination of LL and producer Brian Grazer’s EDtv runs a reasonable $34.98. That effectively halves the cost of the two discs, since each goes for $34.98 individually. Even if you don’t want a copy of EDtv, you may as well get the two-pack; sell the undesired DVD in an auction, or give it to a friend, or trade it for magic beans.