"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.
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