In this likeable family comedy, Jason Shepherd (Frankie Muniz of “Malcolm in the Middle”) plays an 8th grader who relies on his easy smile and even easier lies to keep him out of trouble, with a little help from his reluctant but loyal friend Kaylee (Nickelodeon’s Amanda Bynes). But it all catches up with him when he tells his teacher an elaborate story about being late with his homework because his father choked on a meatball. Though he thinks he has backed it up by pretending to be his father on the phone, he is busted when his parents show up at school. He has until 6:00 pm to turn in the paper, which must be in his own handwriting. If he doesn’t get it in on time, he’ll have to repeat the class in summer school.
He writes a story called “Big Fat Liar.” Racing to get it in on time, he collides with a car that turns out to contain an even bigger liar than he is, Hollywood producer Marty Wolf (Paul Giamattti). Jason gets into Wolf’s car and everything falls out of his backpack. He shoves it all back in, but when he gets to the school, the story is missing. Summer school is bad enough, but even worse is that no one believes that he really did write the story or that he got a ride from a Hollywood producer. He is literally the boy who cried (Marty) Wolf.
Summer comes, and summer school is miserable. At the movies, Jason sees a coming attraction for a Marty Wolf movie called….”Big Fat Liar.” Wolf has taken the story Jason left in the car and turned it into a major motion picture!
Jason sees this as his chance to prove to his parents that for once he really was telling the truth. When his parents go away for the weekend, Jason take his entire bank account and buys two tickets to Los Angeles so that he and Kaylee can find Wolf and make him tell Jason’s father the truth.
Jason and Kaylee scam their way into getting a limo ride from the airport and duck off the Universal Studios tour bus to find Wolf’s office. Then they scam their way into his office, but Wolf refuses to tell the truth. So Jason and Kaylee, along with a growing group of fellow Wolf-haters, set up a series of pranks designed to torture Wolf into admitting that Jason wrote the story for his new movie.
Muniz and Giamatti are deft comic actors, but the highlight of the movie is Bynes as Kaylee. Her two different but equally hilarious renditions of Hollywood secretaries are gems. Giamatti is so relentlessly selfish and egotistical that it gets a bit tedious, but he does do a wonderful little dance to “Hungry Like a (what else?) Wolf.”
Parents should know that, while the movie’s theme is the importance of telling the truth and being trustworthy, the message is a little mixed. In order to prove that he was telling the truth about finishing his story, Jason and Kaylee have to lie, steal, vandalize, and generally behave in an irresponsible – and illegal – manner, even by the standards of comic fantasy. And at the end, Jason’s parents are proud of him for proving that he was not lying when he said he had written his paper, never mentioning that perhaps two 14-year-olds should not have flown to California when they were supposed to be at home. One small bright spot worth mentioning is that all of Jason’s efforts are intended to show that he was telling the truth. His motive for pursuing Wolf is never getting any money or credit for his story. Another strength of the movie is its racially diverse cast.
Families who see this movie should talk about why people lie and how it feels not to be trusted. When someone is caught in a lie, how can he or she regain the trust of those who have been disappointed? Would you like to see the movie based on Jason’s story? What do you think it would be like?