The 1997 Jim Carrey comedy 'Liar Liar' hit movie screens shortly after his first real big screen disappointment, 'The Cable Guy,' and was welcomed by audiences and critics alike as a welcome return to form for the star of the earlier comedic blockbusters 'Ace Ventura' and 'Dumb and Dumber.' Full of the facial contortions and stringy voices tht Carrey had honed on Fox's "In Living Color," 'Liar Liar' was a perfect showcase for the comedian's unique brand of humor.
Fletcher Reede (Jim Carrey) is an up-and-coming attorney working to become a partner in a reknowned law firm, but his success has come at a price -- he's steadily losing touch with his young son, Max (Justin Cooper). Though he is is a nice guy with good intentions, he has a habit of lying to try to avoid disappointing his son. When Fletcher misses Max's fifth birthday party (after promising nothing would keep him away), the boy blows out his candles and wishes that his father would stop lying for an entire day. Miraculously, the wish comes true and Fletcher is forced to tell the truth for twenty-four hours -- no easy feat for a lawyer. He frantically works to keep his job, defend a VIP client (Jennifer Tilly), and repair his relationship with his family -- all without telling a single lie.
I adored Jim Carrey when he first hit the scene. His kinetic mannerisms and exuberance made him instantly endearing and set him apart from anyone who came before him. Unfortunately over the years, however, his comedy has become a one-trick pony for me, relying too heavily on the familiar Carrey mannerisms, rather than a strong script or clever dialogue. 'Liar Liar' certainly has its moments and people who enjoy this kind of comedy will love it. However, returning to this one almost ten years later, for me his performance in this film fails to soar in the way I remembered it, and pales in comparison to his more nuancd performances in films like 'The Truman Show' and 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.'
Making matters worse, the character arcs in 'Liar Liar' are also heavy handed and predictable. Obviously intended to be family fare, the jokes seem shoot too high for young audiences and too low for older audiences. As a result, 'Liar Liar' seems to have a hard time deciding if it wants to pursue edgy adult humor or play the sap card and go for the heartstrings.
Luckily, there's still a lot of fun to be had revisiting 'Liar Liar' (or seeing it for the first time). All of the actors clearly had a great time on set and their chemistry shows through. Line delivery is quick and effortless and the script is full of amusing situations that play with the ideas people have about truth and dishonesty. The ending may be obvious from the very beginning, but Carrey still surprises on a few key occasions and flexes his dramatic muscle when needed.
In short, fans of Jim Carrey's physical comedy are sure to find a lot to enjoy here, but ten years later, others may find themselves a bit disappointed by how familiar all of the jokes feel. For my own part, I had a good time revisiting 'Liar Liar' -- it just didn't hold up nearly as well as I'd hoped it would.
This HD DVD version of 'Liar Liar' provides a nice visual upgrade over the standard DVD editions (especially the earlier non-anamorphic release), but it fails to avoid the pitfalls of catalogue titles that haven't been remastered. Aside from the obvious increase to 1080p resolution and the noticeable decrease in source noise, this single-layer VC-1 transfer doesn't pack the oomph I've come to expect from high definition releases of classic material.
Colors are fine, but sometimes feel flat and lack dimension -- the courtroom scenes in particular are plagued by murkiness and have difficulty rendering fine object detail in the background. The film's palette is often vivid, but the transfer can't seem to sustain the stability of the colors. Black levels are deep and dark, but shadow delineation suffers from a lack of visible detail. There are also a lot of shots that are softer than others even though edge enhancement pops up on a regular basis. While I wasn't expecting to be floored by 'Liar Liar,' I did expect the studio to treat the film with some care and avoid such fundamental missteps.
Unfortunately, this seems to be part of a larger trend for Universal and its recent catalogue titles -- while some (like 'Born on the Fourth of July') have been better than others thanks to more recent DVD remasters, overall the studio's catalogue releases have seemed rushed to the high-def market with re-heated transfers that were originally produced for earlier standard-def DVD releases.
It doesn't take an economist to determine that the studio is probably just trying to keep the number of titles available on HD DVD neck-and-neck with the number of Blu-ray titles being released. But while this may make sense as a competitive business strategy, Universal is arguably shooting itself in the foot with the most passionate early adopters by not taking the time to deliver product that truly showcases the advantages of high definition. After all, what's the point of spending all the extra money to replace your standard DVD collection when the studio hasn't taken the prep time to make the high-def edition look its best?
'Liar Liar' could've looked amazing with some extra time and work, but as presented here it is a perfect example of a dangerous mentality. An average transfer adds quantity to the list of HD DVD titles, but it doesn't add quality. To be clear, as a dual-format supporter, I have no personal stake in one format over the other, but as early adopters who've made a significant investment in one (or both) of the high-def disc formats, we should all be demanding that the studios deliver the very best product available, regardless of the competitive environment.
'Liar Liar' features a Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 mix (1.5 Mbps) that does a good job with what little it has to work with. As expected for a comedy of this sort, the film is a dialogue-heavy affair that's only punctuated by a bouncy score. Voices are crisp and the music is well prioritized within the soundscape, while the rear channels are generally reserved for ambiance.
There are a few problems, however. First, while channel movement is acceptable, it does get a bit choppy on the few occasions where sound moves from the rear speakers to the front. Second, the acoustics feel a bit stagey -- I found myself annoyed during the courtroom scenes in particular, because there wasn't enough resonance in the open room. Finally, bass booms feel thin and the subwoofer failed to catch my attention (aside from the airplane engines at the end of the film).
'Liar Liar' has hit standard DVD twice: initially (in 1998) as a barebones release, and then again in 1999 as a Collector's Edition DVD. This HD DVD ports over the more significant features from the Collector's Edition (which were originally produced for the Signature Edition laserdisc), and presents them in 480i/p.
The main draw is a commentary track with director Tom Shadyac. He's amusing with plenty of good anecdotes about Carrey's behind-the-scenes antics. It's also fun listening to Shadyac point out the moments where Carrey is ad-libing as opposed to when he follows the script. The only downside is that the track gets somewhat repetitive at the halfway mark -- Shadyac describes the setup of a shot, chats about Carrey's routine during that shot, and repeats this in at least twenty different ways over the course of the commentary.
Rounding out the supplements are: a promotionally-toned Making-Of featurette called "Bridging the Comedy Chasm" (15 minutes), a lengthy deleted scene (4 minutes), and a collection of outtakes (2 minutes) that are sure to force a smile on your face. All of these additional features are definitely worth watching and provide plenty of laughs beyond the movie. Unfortunately, they're over too quickly and lack any meaningful exploration of the story, the cast, or the crew.
'Liar Liar' hasn't aged as well as I'd hoped -- the comedy is too familiar and emotionally manipulative for me. Still, fans of 'Liar Liar' and/or Carrey's earlier work should have a good time revisiting the film and are sure to enjoy this HD DVD's decent audio package. On the not-so-good side, the visual presentation doesn't offer quite as much of an upgrade as it should, and the supplements are just so-so. As such, I'm sorry to say that I don't thinnk there's anything tantalizing enough here for the casual fan to justify spending their hard-earned cash.