Published Feb 01, 2002The best movies made for children manage to transcend their target audience by including enough clever references to keep the parents engaged while having an infectiously fun spirit that everyone can get behind. "Big Fat Liar" is not one of those movies. It's a tame, light family entertainment that, while being fairly watchable, has an appeal nowhere broad enough to really reach anyone outside the 'tweens that it's aimed at. The film features the omnipresent Frankie Muniz (TV's "Malcolm in the Middle") as wise-ass eighth grader Jason who has an unparalleled ability to lie his way out of any given situation. When his lies catch up to him, he's forced to write a story in order to pass English class, but on the way to hand it in he encounters sleazy Hollywood producer Marty Wolf (Paul Giamatti) who inadvertently drives off with the story and proceeds to start making it into a major motion picture. Of course, nobody believes Jason's unlikely tale, so he embarks on a mission with his best friend Kaylee (Amanda Bynes) to confront Marty in L.A. and force him to admit his theft to clear Jason's name. Of course, being a "Boy who Cried Wolf" style parable, amidst the wacky revenge antics that the kids get up to in the movie Jason also absorbs the sound moral message that the truth will set him free and lying's wrong.
"Big Fat Liar" is not horrible, it's just easy. The actors are all fine enough, with Muniz doing his likeable smart-ass schtick, Bynes having some promising comedic moments, and Giamatti making his villain cartoonishly evil. It just offers nothing new, with a simplistic morality, cliched plot points, and lazy filmmaking (like music montages telegraphing the kids "having fun" playing around on the studio lot). Maybe that's the point, to give the audience a film that's safe, playful and reaffirms good old-fashioned values. The problem is that, as it's Jason and Amanda's lying and scheming that form the fun and interesting aspects of their characters, allowing them to get as far as they do, the moral punch line comes off as more than a little disingenuous and you're left with not much of anything.