Friday, October 16, 2009

Lingering in the Multiplex: Wimpy Gervais, Robo-Bruce

The Invention of Lying comes from the mind of comedian Ricky Gervais (he writes, produces, stars and co-directs) and he has a great hook. What if the human race never discovered lying? At first, the results are hilarious with people dryly pointing out the obvious and sharing innermost thoughts (though why some form of rudimentary manners has also never developed is beyond me). Soon, Gervais discovers he can say something that isn’t (there isn’t even a word for lie) and the comedy moves to a stranger place where he can make just about anything happen because no one has cause to doubt what he says. Unfortunately, even with material this rich, the movie peaks about halfway through, devolving into a depressingly conventional love story that centers around a weak character inhabited by Jennifer Garner. The alternate universe itself becomes tiring, with incessant frankness becoming less tickling and more bludgeoning. To make matters worse, the style of the film’s imagery is nearly suffocating in its blandness. There are some laughs to be found (including one of the funniest scenes of the year) but that just makes the movie’s ultimate failure all the more depressing.

Surrogates is a slick sci-fi mystery from director Jonathan Mostow that takes place in a world where human beings live their lives with little risk due to mechanized humanoid devices that can take their place. But, as is always the case in these kinds of flawless-system movies, something goes wrong. The movie doesn’t chase down the tantalizing implications of its premise as thoroughly as it could have (though, given the barely 90-minute run time, that might have been edited down), but it’s still easily entertaining. It’s the motion picture equivalent of one of those cheap sci-fi paperbacks that can be bought to bring travelers distraction without leaving much impact. The special effects are excellent (especially the weird waxy complexion of the surrogates), as are the well-staged, well-lit action scenes that are often exciting. Plus, after all these years, it’s still a pleasure to see Bruce Willis run around fighting the bad guys. The movie's not at all as good as the similarly-themed Minority Report, but it's good enough for a lazy afternoon.

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