"Big Fat Liar"
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STILL LOOKS LIKE A MILLION BUCKS
by Louis B. Hobson, Sun Media
If the truth be known, Lee Majors is neither in retirement nor is he wanting for work.
The former Six Million Dollar Man has a cameo in the Frankie Muniz comedy Big Fat Liar, which opens Friday.
Majors plays an aging Hollywood stuntman who sets out to prove he's still just as valuable as any computer effect.
Director Shawn Levy says he and screenwriter Dan Schneider "thought it would be really cool to work with the Six Million Dollar Man. We were huge fans of Lee's TV series growing up."
Levy says Majors "bought into the joke immediately, but more because he'd played a stuntman on his 1980s TV series The Fall Guy."
The script calls for Majors, 60, to fall from a building, dangle from a helicopter and jog up over a hill.
"Lee refused to let anyone stand in for him. The day we filmed him jogging over the rise, he'd left his knee brace at home, so he said he'd only do the shot once. Other than that, we could have dropped him off buildings all day long," recalls Levy.
While he was working on Big Fat Liar, Majors was shooting his role in the snowboarding comedy Out Cold.
Dimension Films has announced it is developing a feature film version of Martin Caidin's 1972 novel Cyborg, which was the basis of Majors's TV series The Six Million Dollar Man.
''Big Fat Liar'' small on laughs
Big Fat Liar (Comedy, color, PG, 1:27)
By Robert Koehler
HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - A fantasy about how a kid gets his revenge on an egomaniacal Hollywood producer, ``Big Fat Liar'' issues from that dubious school of comedy that believes loud equals laughs.
Expressly designed to exclude all but the most eager and willing teen viewers, this strenuously unfunny vehicle for Frankie Muniz (``Malcolm in the Middle (news - Y! TV)'') and Amanda Bynes (``The Amanda Show'') is far from the best career move for these popular teen stars. Indeed, their tube shows represent a brighter, funnier brand of comedy, and fans, especially of ``Malcolm,'' may feel gypped by the ways the talented Muniz has to harness his best instincts.
Kids looking for something dumb, ear popping and broad will be kept happy, though they're not likely to sustain this Tinseltown spoof's box office for too long.
Fourteen-year-old Jason (Muniz) seems to be a bright Michigan kid, but he has this bad habit of stretching the truth, and downright lying, to just about everyone, especially his mom (Christine Tucci) and dad (Michael Bryan French). After he's caught fibbing about a story assignment for a class taught by Mrs. Caldwell (Sandra Oh), Jason is given one last chance. He bangs out a short, seemingly personally inspired story titled ``Big Fat Liar,'' and rushes to deliver it to Caldwell.
En route, he bicycles right into the limo of Marty Wolf (Paul Giamatti), who intros himself by name followed by the phrase, ``famous Hollywood producer.'' One look at the bulbous-eyed, goateed Wolf and you know he's trouble, but he sympathizes with Jason's propensity for lying, assuring him that ``the truth is overrated.''
So, it seems, is good plotting, since this one has Jason leaving his all-important story in the limo. It gives Wolf -- whose recent pics have been stinkers -- the story idea he badly needs. Having lost his story, Jason must go to summer school, which is filmed by helmer Shawn Levy and lenser Jonathan Brown like something out of John Frankenheimer's ``Seconds.'' When he and best friend Kaylee (Bynes) go to the movies and catch a trailer for an upcoming picture called ``Big Fat Liar,'' Jason realizes that he has joined the hallowed class of Bitter Ripped-Off Story Writers.
Jason and Kaylee are soon tooling around L.A. in a limo driven by Frank (Donald Faison) on a quest to make Wolf admit that he stole the story. The first failed encounter with Wolf -- who's based on the Universal lot -- at least shows off Bynes' fairly amusing skills at mimicry and Muniz's penchant for facing a crisis. But as their more elaborate, ``Mission: Impossible'' revenge plot kicks in, the comedy grows increasingly sweaty and desperate.
Wolf makes even more enemies than he makes movies, including Lee Majors as a put-upon stuntman and Frank himself, whose acting career Wolf helped destroy, so Jason and Kaylee are able to line up plenty of allies. The most powerful one takes the longest to come around -- Wolf's much-abused assistant Monty (Amanda Detmer). Though there's some slight amusement in seeing junior high kids bringing down one of the town's most hateful men, the arch comedy that rules ``Big Fat Liar'' is fed by the hopeless notion that auds are continually fascinated with Hollywood.
What gets lost -- so much so that Jason has to helpfully remind us from time to time -- is that a son wants to win back his parents' trust. But when Wolf is humiliated, and Monty ends up actually writing and directing the movie, ``Big Fat Liar'' (an unaccountable development, since finished scenes from the picture have already been seen in the trailer), Jason breaks out in a big grin at the premiere when he sees his name on screen. Telling the truth is fine, this movie is telling young people, but what really matters is getting screen credit.
Though Muniz and Bynes make a somewhat likable team, their funniest skills are dampened by the material's insistent stupidity. Muniz is allowed some of his patented reaction shots of pure adolescent terror, but his comic talents shine much more brightly on ``Malcolm.''
The real terror here is Giamatti, who appears not to have been directed at all; his already over-the-top turn as a morose, insecure documentary-maker in Todd Solondz's ``Storytelling'' seems imbued with consummate subtlety compared to his Marty Wolf, who becomes a raging cartoon that won't shut up. Levy and crew surely had fun using the Universal backlot as a backlot, but they fail to use it satirically. Michigan-set scenes look too obviously like the L.A. locales they are.
At the Movies: 'Big Fat Liar'
Thu Feb 7,12:42 PM ET
By CHRISTY LEMIRE, AP Entertainment Writer
"Big Fat Liar" is a movie about the movie business made by people who think we don't know anything about the movie business.
This is obvious early on, when Paul Giamatti's character, sitting in the back of a white limo, introduces himself to 14-year-old Jason Shepherd (Frankie Muniz) as "Marty Wolf — famous Hollywood producer."
It's a movie in which Jason and his best friend, Kaylee (Amanda Bynes), can wander freely through a backlot bustling with actors dressed as cowboys and astronauts, where set pieces are frantically shuttled to and fro, narrowly dodging elephants and giraffes.
And when they need a place to spend the night, our two young heroes merely sneak into a studio building, flip a light switch, and BOOM! They find themselves in a vast, colorful space, crammed with every imaginable toy, prop and costume — which looks an awful lot like the loft where Tom Hanks' overgrown kid character lived in "Big."
It is, however, a movie made by people who know product placement. "Big Fat Liar" plays like a shameless, extended commercial for the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park, where people constantly drink Coke.
It feels like the filmmakers themselves might have been jacked up on caffeine during shooting. Director Shawn Levy seems to think "loud" equals "funny," especially when it comes to Marty Wolf. The shallow, scheming movie producer, who steals an idea from a story Jason wrote and turns it into a movie called "Big Fat Liar," shouts at everyone who crosses his path — his driver, his assistant, even his stunt coordinator (Lee Majors in a mildly funny cameo).
Jason and Kaylee trek from Michigan to Hollywood to force Marty to admit to Jason's dad that he stole the idea, because Jason's dad thinks he's — you guessed it — a big fat liar. They put blue dye in Marty's swimming pool, reroute his phone calls and somehow figure out how to wire his convertible so that the wiper fluid, brakes and alarm go off simultaneously. This is supposed to be a kids' movie?
It's possible to make a smart movie that kids and adults can enjoy; "Spy Kids" found that difficult balance last year, and is one of many movies from which "Big Fat Liar" steals scenes.
This movie just reinforces how talented the ensemble cast of "Malcolm in the Middle" is, in which Muniz co-stars in the title role, and how strong the sitcom's writing is. When Muniz is left to carry a movie on his own with far weaker material — here from screenwriters Dan Schneider and "Hardball" director Brian Robbins — sadly, he flails.
It's agonizing to write this, because Muniz is so cute and so likable. And he showed such promise in "My Dog Skip" in 2000 — but again, that had a strong ensemble cast, including Kevin Bacon, Diane Lane and Luke Wilson. And of course, it had the insurmountable cute-dog factor, which improves any movie.
Here, Muniz rushes and slurs his lines half the time, and scrunches his face in frustration the other half.
Bynes, who stars in the Nickelodeon series "The Amanda Show," is likable, though, and shows some good comic timing — and resembles a young Jennifer Aniston, complete with the early Rachel haircut from "Friends."
And there is one funny scene involving Jaleel White — who played the nerdy, bespectacled Steve Urkel in the '90s sitcom "Family Matters" — as himself, co-starring in a buddy-cop flick with a chicken. Because a chicken dressed as a police officer also improves any movie.
"Big Fat Liar," a Universal release, is rated PG for some language. Running time: 88 minutes. One and a half stars.