Tag Archives: Jeffrey Tambor

The Invention of Lying (2009, Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson)

The Invention of Lying is a 100 minute exploration of a gag. In a world without lying–or any fictive creativity whatsoever–co-director, co-writer, and star Ricky Gervais one day spontaneously mutates and lies. He lies for personal gain, only to discover exploiting people doesn’t make him feel good, so he lies to make himself and others feel good, but it gets him into trouble. It doesn’t get him what he wants and it just ends up making him rich, famous, and miserable.

The film opens with Gervais on a low point. He’s about to lose his job and he’s out on a date with his dream girl, Jennifer Garner, only she thinks she’s too good for him. Because, objectively, his genetic material isn’t good enough to mix with hers. So the other thing this world doesn’t have is any relatable version of love. Gervais and co-writer Matthew Robinson aren’t even comfortable getting into the lust questions, because once they start down any problematic avenue, they run away as fast as they can. It’s like they release they can’t make the joke funny and hightail it away. So why do the joke in the first place?

The film takes place in a small New England town where there is, inexplicably, a movie studio. Except movies are just filmed lectures of history lessons because there’s no fiction and there’s no concept of it. Gervais and Robinson entirely ignore how the world would function and how history would have progressed without imagination or creative ambition. For a while, they just keep falling back on the gimmick–what if everyone just says what they’re thinking, no matter how awful. There are a lot of flashy cameos–Ed Norton is the best–but they can only distract so much. Eventually, the film has to reconcile itself, because Gervais is in love with Garner and Garner doesn’t want him because of his genetic material.

There’s this scene where Gervais explains how he imagines peoples lives upon seeing them and Garner just sees them as fat, bald, nerdy, losers. It comes right after Gervais telling Garner she’s the kindest, best person he’s ever met, which makes absolutely no sense, but whatever, she’s supposed to be angelic.

Eventually, Garner’s part contracts and the movie moves ahead an indeterminable time, becoming just Gervais moping with buddies Louis C.K. and Jonah Hill. By this time, Gervais has increased the scale of his lying, making up God. That subplot is the best one in the film; Gervais and Robinson don’t have to be subtle about their jabs yet still manage subtely in said jabs. It operates on two levels, something the film never does otherwise.

Sadly, it’s not about Gervais inadvertently becoming a messiah, it’s about him pining for Garner. Conveniently, Gervais’s first act nemesis (Rob Lowe, one note as a successful bully) also has eyes for Garner so there’s a love triangle thing towards the end.

It’s a yawn, partially because Garner and Lowe are extremely limited in their roles, partially because Invention can only handle so much emotion. If people can’t have creative expectation, their emotions are stunted. And even when they aren’t, Gervais and Robinson are focused entirely on characters on hand, not this world they’ve ostensibly created.

Gervais drops out during the third act way too much too. He’s the only relatable character in the film; everyone else is a caricature to be mocked. He’s a caricature too (maybe the thinest one), but he’s not supposed to be mocked.

Okay photography from Tim Suhrstedt covers for Gervais and Robinson’s lackluster directing. There are a lot of songs and song montages–including a criminally atrocious Elvis Costello cover of Cat Stevens’s Sitting–and they don’t make any sense since there’s no music in Lying’s world.

Gervais’s performance is fine. Garner ranges from inoffensive to miscast. Hill is an overblown cameo, while C.K. is an underdeveloped sidekick. Besides Ed Norton, Martin Starr’s probably the funniest cameo. Others are earnest but with limited material.

The Invention of Lying would’ve made a great six part sitcom or something, but Gervais and Robinson don’t have a full enough narrative for 100 minutes. It’s not funny enough to make up for all the laziness.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson; director of photography, Tim Suhrstedt; edited by Chris Gill; music by Tim Atack; production designer, Alec Hammond; produced by Lynda Obst, Oliver Obst, Dan Lin, and Gervais; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ricky Gervais (Mark Bellison), Jennifer Garner (Anna McDoogles), Rob Lowe (Brad Kessler), Louis C.K. (Greg), Jonah Hill (Frank), Tina Fey (Shelley), Jeffrey Tambor (Anthony), and Fionnula Flanagan (Martha Bellison).


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Muppets from Space (1999, Tim Hill)

Muppets from Space is definitely missing some important elements (like subplots and a first act), but it usually doesn’t matter. Even though Hill is a poor director–the film doesn’t just lack personality, it looks like a TV show–the Muppet performers are incredibly strong and the script has a bunch of great lines.

The film focuses on Gonzo, which might be the major problem. The Muppets are a team and, while everyone else gets into the act (to some degree), it’s mostly Gonzo’s show. And there’s not enough for him to do. The script lacks narrative ambition–Gonzo gets kidnapped by the Men in Black and the Muppets free him. Then there are space Muppets.

A little bit more happens at the beginning, but that description pretty much covers it all. It’s as though the screenwriters know they can get away with certain things–like not giving the rest of the Muppets story arcs–and still be genially okay. They’re right… but geniality doesn’t make up for ambition.

For the Muppets, Pepe, Bobo and Miss Piggy are the standouts in this one. Most of the cameos are with Piggy–she has great scenes with Ray Liotta, Andie MacDowell and Josh Charles.

In the primary human role, Jeffrey Tambor is funny. David Arquette and Rob Schneider work well too, probably because they’re only slightly less manic than the Muppets.

The funk soundtrack is occasionally amusing but a little forced (original songs would’ve helped).

It’s perfectly fine… just feels like television.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Hill; written by Jerry Juhl, Joey Mazzarino and Ken Kaufman; director of photography, Alan Caso; edited by Richard Pearson and Michael A. Stevenson; music by Jamshied Sharifi; production designer, Stephen Marsh; produced by Martin G. Baker and Brian Henson; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Jerry Nelson, Kevin Clash, Bill Barretta, Kevin Clash and Frank Oz as the Muppets.

Starring Jeffrey Tambor (K. Edgar Singer), Andie MacDowell (Shelley Snipes), Pat Hingle (General Luft), David Arquette (Dr. Tucker), Rob Schneider (UFO Mania TV Producer), Josh Charles (Agent Baker), Hulk Hogan (Man in Black), Ray Liotta (Gate Guard), Kathy Griffin (Female Armed Guard) and F. Murray Abraham (Noah).


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A House in the Hills (1993, Ken Wiederhorn)

A House in the Hills is, for the majority of its running time, pretty darn funny. It’s a romance novel run through a black comedy filter, with Helen Slater playing the lead. The film takes place in LA; Slater’s an actress and ends up being the one character the film never actually explains. It’s one of the many surprisingly subtle nuances to the script.

The mysterious stranger is Michael Madsen, who gives one of his best performances, who breaks into the house where she’s housesitting. In some ways, the script could be a play—it’s mostly the two of them sitting around for forty or fifty minutes, but there are these little comic moments, even when Slater’s ostensibly in danger.

It turns out, of course, there’s more than meets the eye to the situation they both find themselves in. One of the great parts of director Wiederhorn and Miguel Tejada-Flores’s script is how they get more and more backstory into the film as the action progresses.

As a director, Wiederhorn gets how to balance the humor and the reality of Slater’s character. The first ten minutes are excellent working actor moments. Richard Einhorn’s score, revealing the comedy, helps the film immeasurably.

The supporting cast—Jeffrey Tambor, James Laurenson and Elyssa Davalos—is strong, but Hills really depends on Slater and, to a lesser degree, Madsen. While they’re both good, she’s the essential component. She makes the role—able to be flustered but still calculating—believable.

It’s a smart comedy.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ken Wiederhorn; written by Wiederhorn and Miguel Tejada-Flores; director of photography, Josep M. Civit; edited by Peter Teschner; music by Richard Einhorn; production designer, Morley Smith; produced by Wiederhorn and Patricia Foulkrod; released by Live Entertainment.

Starring Michael Madsen (Mickey), Helen Slater (Alex Weaver), Jeffrey Tambor (Willie), James Laurenson (Ronald Rankin), Elyssa Davalos (Sondra Rankin), Taylor Lee (Patty Neubauer) and Toni Barry (Susie).


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City Slickers (1991, Ron Underwood)

City Slickers is a mid-life crisis comedy. I had forgotten about that aspect of it. All three principals–Billy Crystal, Bruno Kirby and Daniel Stern–start the movie in a funk. Well, actually only Crystal. The other two’s problems reveal themselves throughout. Especially Kirby. His backstory takes so long to reveal, it strains believability. It’s not believable his friends would know so little about him.

Anyway, in order for the movie to work, it has to be believable these problems will work themselves out at the end and the trio will be able to happily get on with their lives. It’s a comedy after all.

Except it’s not really about the three of them, it’s about Crystal. So if Crystal’s problem can work itself out… the movie works itself out.

And, within the constraints of the film, it does work. Underwood is able to sell it. It doesn’t make up for the dragging parts of the film, but it does make it work. In fact, it’s a somewhat strange resolution. It’s not subtle, though they never verbalize it; verbalizing it would make Crystal’s character a little… unlikable actually.

Underwood does a good job except when he’s repeatedly zooming in for effect. It just doesn’t work.

Crystal, Kirby and Stern are all good. Crystal gets better when he’s dramatic. Jack Palance and Crystal are great together. The supporting cast in general is strong.

Marc Shaiman’s music is a weak spot.

City Slickers has its ups and downs but it’s fine.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Underwood; written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel; director of photography, Dean Semler; edited by O. Nicholas Brown; music by Marc Shaiman; production designer, Lawrence G. Paull; produced by Irby Smith; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Billy Crystal (Mitch Robbins), Daniel Stern (Phil Berquist), Bruno Kirby (Ed Furillo), Patricia Wettig (Barbara Robbins), Helen Slater (Bonnie Rayburn), Jack Palance (Curly Washburn), Noble Willingham (Clay Stone), Tracey Walter (Cookie), Josh Mostel (Barry Shalowitz), David Paymer (Ira Shalowitz), Bill Henderson (Dr. Ben Jessup), Jeffrey Tambor (Lou), Phill Lewis (Dr. Steven Jessup), Kyle Secor (Jeff), Dean Hallo (T.R.), Karla Tamburrelli (Arlene Berquist) and Yeardley Smith (Nancy).


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