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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Big Fat Liar (2002)

Jason: Dude, no offense, but you have made some stinkers in the last few years.
Marty: Well, everyone has a dry spell, Ebert.

- Jason (Frankie Muniz), Marty (Paul Giamatti)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: September 23, 2002

Stars: Frankie Muniz, Paul Giamatti, Amanda Bynes
Other Stars: Amanda Detmer, Donald Faison, Lee Majors, Jaleel White
Director: Shawn Levy

Manufacturer: Ritek
MPAA Rating: PG for some language
Run Time: 01h:27m:41s
Release Date: September 24, 2002
UPC: 025192197529
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B B-A-B+ B-

DVD Review

Back in the old days (pre-Pixar and before the Disney late 1980s resurgence era), it used to be that a "kid" film was likely to be nothing but sugary pap, without any hooks for anyone above the age of 8. Luckily times have changed, and more often than not a feature marketed toward children will have a few laughs geared toward the older crowd, or at the very least, present the material in a way that works on different levels.

The Universal/Nickelodeon venture Big Fat Liar isn't in the category of Shrek or Monsters, Inc in terms of large-scale mass appeal, but it still has a few broad laughs that give it some substance for older viewers. Jason Shepard (Malcolm in the Middle's Frankie Muniz) is a kid with a penchant for telling creative tall tales, and his lying eventually gets him in big trouble with his teachers as wel as his parents. After writing a short story entitled Big Fat Liar, Jason accidently leaves his paper in the limo of sleazy, bigtime Hollywood producer Marty Wolf (Paul Giamatti), after the two run into each other (literally) on the streets. Of course no one believes Jason, being the perpetual liar that he is, and things get ugly when a trailer for a Marty Wolf-produced film called Big Fat Liar suddenly shows up at the local multiplex.

It's then revenge time for Jason, and his best friend Kaylee (Nick's Amanda Bynes), who plan an elaborate ruse to sneak out to Los Angeles and get his story back. It's kind of oddly refreshing that Jason only wants Wolf to call his father to tell him the truth, and that he is not asking for a huge share of the fictitious film's profits, but I guess that's just my cynical side coming through.

The silliness that ensues in Los Angeles as Jason and Kaylee exact their plan against Wolf is strictly over-the-top cartoon antics, but Muniz and Bynes exude a natural likability. Even the wacky music montage (one of filmdom's most vile clichés) in the Universal Studios prop department is tolerable, though achingly pointless. Muniz does yet another version of TV's Malcolm (if it ain't broke...), but did you really expect anything different? I have seen Bynes a few times on Nick's The Amanda Show (hey, I have an 11-year-old daughter, ok?), which is one of those noisy skit shows full of quirky characters that seems to be on the network about every other hour. On her show, Bynes shows a gift for weird voices, and seems to have a genuinely solid grasp on comic timing, though in Big Fat Liar, her character seems to exist primarily as a cute, nodding partner to Muniz.

A few of the film's better running gags seem designed to appeal to an older demographic. In one, Jaleel White (TV's Urkel) has a small role as himself starring in one of Wolf's goofy films (in this case the story of a cop partnered with a chicken). Wolf constantly calls the actor "Urkel," and it's a nice bit of self-parody on White's part to allow himself to be mocked. Even one-time Bionic Man and The Fall Guy Lee Majors has a small role as an aging stunt man, also mercilessly abused verbally by Wolf. Saved By the Bell's Screech (Dustin Diamond) has a small cameo at one of Wolf's parties, putting the moves on a woman who drunkenly rambles on about the intricacies of his TV character.

Truth be told, Paul Giamatti's Wolf is the best part of Big Fat Liar. He's caustic, cynical, mean and gets off all of the biggest laughs. He's the guy who really anchors this film, not Muniz, and his mean-spirited jibes and one-liners (especially the ones he dishes out to White and Majors) are hilarious. I know his character is one-dimensional, but there's a part of me that likes to think his portrayal is not too far from reality.

Levy (who has done work for Nick's Jett Jackson and The Secret World of Alex Mack) has filled his film with a real kid-friendly energy that is zippy without becoming annoying or dizzying for the older crowd.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Yeah, I know I should be livid over Universal's omission of an anamorphic widescreen transfer. Regrettably, this kind of thing is pretty common these days, especially on titles geared toward the under 12 set. Still, even with the sacrilegious absence of an OAR version, I found the 1.33:1 open matte transfer on this disc to be truly excellent. The print is free of any blemishes, and this helps to reveal the excessively bright colors, which come off incredibly rich and explosive here, especially during the Jason-and-Kaylee-in-Los-Angeles portion of the film. Deep blacks and strong shadow delineation prevail, too, though there are some minor compression issues, likely a result of the disc's many supplementals.

I know I should be "angry" over the lack of a widescreen transfer, but this one looked so good it really mattered little to me. This isn't exactly The Lord of the Rings, and the quality of the image transfer made me temporarily forget that the aspect ratio was not right.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Frenchno
DTSEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: Well, the absence of a widescreen transfer didn't cause Universal to shortchange viewers in the audio department; a pair of aggressively mixed tracks in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS are thankfully provided. While both are quite good, and the differences marginal, I would pick the DTS if I had to single one out. It has a slightly deeper bottom end, and though both tracks provide a clean, but at times dizzying, soundstage (lots of frenetic sound effects and of course the ever present Smashmouth song). Directional imaging is strong across the front, and the rears get a good workout, especially during Marty Wolf's Big Fat Liar (the movie within the movie) trailer.

The disc also features a 5.1 French language track.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Mummy: Quest For The Lost Scrolls, Shrek, Butt Ugly Martians: The Best Of The Bad Guys
6 Deleted Scenes
Production Notes
1 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Shawn Levy, Jonathan Brown, Frankie Muniz
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: AGI Media Packaging
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Universal Studios Back Lot
  2. Trivia Challenge
  3. Are You A Big Fat Liar?
  4. Spyro Video Game features
Extras Review: There's quite a bit to choose from here, though not much of it contains any real substance.

Let's start with the two scene-specific commentaries, one featuring director Shawn Levy and cinematographer Jonathan Brown, the second a solo outing from Frankie Muniz. The Levy/Brown track is surprisingly technical, with a lot of the talk centered on lighting and film stock, and creating that "kid-driven" energy and vibe. Big Fat Liar wasn't the kind of film that really merits the in-depth discussion that Levy and Brown provide, but the tone of the track is pretty upbeat throughout. The other track is Muniz on his own, and even though I like the kid (big Malcolm fans at our house), he just doesn't have nearly enough chatter to carry a ninety-minute commentary on his own, which is probably why there are so many silent gaps. He's effusive and positive, and despite stating he will offer "the inside scoop," he doesn't really offer any content. My daughter joined me to listen to the Muniz track, and a few times the silence caused her to wonder if he had gone home.

The six Deleted Scenes (14m:43s) are presented in rough-cut widescreen format, and I honestly thought a couple of them should have been left in the final print (like Wolf's reason for being so attached to Mr. Funny Bones). But the cutting trimmed the film to its handy 88 minute runtime, which was probably more important than character development at some point. Spotlight On Location (11m:59s) is your typical fluff-umentary, featuring film clips, innocuous cast/crew comments, as well as some behind-the-scenes footage. The five-question Trivia Challenge is a fairly simple set of movie questions, and if you get them all correct you are rewarded with a quick Outtakes clip (:45s). The Universal Back Lot consists of a map where you can navigate around to different areas (Psycho House, Spartacus Square) and click on it to see the scene in Big Fat Liar where it was used. And the point is? The Are You a Big Fat Liar? test is designed to tell you if you have what it takes to be a big, fat liar by asking ten questions. As expected, the questions are silly: Have you ever picked your nose and wiped it on something other than a tissue?

The DVD-ROM section offers nothing more than dull links to the PlayStation Spyro web game site, in addition to the usual Universal promotional schtuff.

A clever full-motion menu features Amanda Bynes making disparaging comments at you if you don't select an option within a reasonable amount of time. Cute. The disc is cut into 18 chapters, and also includes a preview and cheat codes for the Spyro Playstation game, production notes, a theatrical trailer, as well as subtitles in English and Spanish.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

Kids should gobble up this mindless comedy, and if you're over the age of 12 you might find yourself drawn into this one, too. Paul Giamatti steals the film, and Muniz and Bynes are innocently likeable.

I imagine this one will have high repeat watchability for all those Muniz-heads out there (like my daughter), and Universal has included what seems like a lot of extras on this disc, though most of them are nothing more than space filler. The absence of a widescreen transfer is problematic, but they have come through with a bright, lively 1.33:1 version that doesn't seem overly cramped.

Recommended as a family rental.

 


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