Background: Physical comedy has been a staple in entertainment for generations in one form or another. As far as film is concerned, are there any of you out there that have never seen The Three Stooges, Fatty Arbuckle, Charlie Chaplin, and scores of others that elevated the genre to make it timeless? Heck, I've watched the Stooges in three separate languages over the years and laughed just as hard as the I Love Lucy reruns were played on a local Spanish channel. In that sense, there are few current comedians that are as well known as Jim Carrey; star of The Mask, The Ace Ventura movies, and a wide range of silly flicks that include some serious drama far beyond the man's reputation. Well, a few days ago I lucked out and picked up a couple of his comedic efforts, with today's review of Liar Liar (HD DVD) being the first. I'm still new to the HD DVD format in terms of my reviews (the previous titles being the limited number of porn titles gracing the website) but I found that DVD Talk had never covered the original release of the movie so here goes...
Movie: Liar Liar (HD DVD) is a cute little comedy starring Jim Carrey as defense attorney Fletcher Reede; a talented litigator on the fast track at a major law firm. He is divorced from Audrey (Maura Tierney) with whom he has a precious son by the name of Max (Justin Cooper) that he loves dearly. The reason for the divorce was summed up nicely by Audrey in that Fletcher was having a lot more sex than she was, not so subtlety suggesting he was sleeping around rather than finding the wonders of self love preferable to her own bedroom antics. A stereotypical lawyer, Fletcher gets by in life using his skillful manipulation of the truth; in short, he lies with a sense of abandon but does so in such an over the top manner that most people roll their eyes and just give him his way. In a deleted scene included on the disc, Fletcher is shown making his client, a bulking thug of a man, look like the innocent victim in a robbery case where it is clear the guy held up an old man at an ATM machine, stole his car, and then beat up the female police officer while resisting arrest. Yet the way Fletcher weaves the tale, his client was simply trying to assist the man after a case of mistaken identity, the lawyer thinking on his feet in the courtroom to incorporate anything he can to bolster his summation of the facts.
Fletcher lives alone but spends a lot of time with the ladies, scoring like a juvenile delinquent with any cutie he sees fit to apply his lines on. His biggest goal in life is to make partner and he will do, and say, anything he can to achieve this goal, including neglecting his son on their visitation days, much to the chagrin of Audrey and Max. His son still loves him for all the goofy antics the man uses but has grown weary of the lies and on the eve of his fifth birthday Max makes a wish that his father tell the truth for once. By mystical means unknown, the wish is granted and Fletcher, having spent the night with one of the senior partners in the firm brushing up on his social skills (that's the nicest way I can put it), finds the harsh realities of his new condition when she asks him how good she was; the man answering that he has had better. This surprises him as much as her and sets the stage for Carrey to use his mugging comedy style in a series of dilemmas ranging from being pulled over by the police to a hilarious encounter with the storage lot personnel to his biggest career case of a tramp (perfectly played by hotty Jennifer Tilly) trying to divorce her rich husband after Fletcher convinced her the day before how much of a victim she was for her seven indiscretions.
The mulligan behind the reason Fletcher is forced to tell the truth is completely sidestepped here and truth be told, it was a wise decision on the part of Director Tom Shadyac (he mentions it in detail on the audio commentary) since that would force the story into a lot of details unimportant to the moral of the story. While an imperfect tale, Carrey pulls it off as though he were the only one who could have done it, the screenplay failing only in that it relies almost exclusively on Carrey to the dismissal of the others. Audrey is the generic ex-wife with the new boyfriend Jerry (played as a goof by Cary Elwes) that wants to take them away to Boston and his bosses, including bed buddy Miranda (Amanda Donohoe) are as clueless as they are vicious. Tilly gave a great performance, though limited in scope, and Cooper as the child was perfect for the role, but this was Carrey's baby all the way, the stereotypical lawyer written to cater to the masses by Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur; making Fletcher an obnoxious, two dimensional bastard that fares little better when he sees the light by the end of this feel good comedy. Still, it had some shining moments that even ten years later stand out in my mind as truly imaginative, the weight of a full length movie appearing to be too much to sustain in between those spots.
For me, the movie held up well enough to rate as Recommended if you don't already own it. For technical reasons I'll get into in the following section, it was not a big leap forward as some of the high definition titles have been but it did show more detail and clarity, the original film stock probably in need of a remastering to get any better than this. In terms of content, I would have preferred the deleted scene be added in (it looked atrocious compared to the rest of the movie) since it added needed background to solidify just how evil Fletcher was and fleshing out the characters would certainly not have hurt the movie given how limited they were but as a fan of Jim Carrey from his In Living Color days, I'm not going to show the green eyed monster as others have done in recent years over some of his career choices. This was one of Carrey's first movies to truly tone down the physical comedy just slightly enough to show he could do more, and audiences loved it enough to result in scores of nominations and awards by various groups as a result.
Picture: Liar Liar (HD DVD) was presented in a true 1080p High Definition widescreen color with the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 as originally released in theaters. The HD DVD was not surprisingly encoded in the common VC-1 codec, on a single sided, single layer disc and while it was not the movie to showcase a high end set up, it wasn't bad either. Having originally seen this one in the theatre and then on a (gasp) full frame DVD, I was impressed that the movie looked decent in most places. This being an HD DVD, I expected more but a comparison this weekend between the collector's edition and this one showed some nice improvement in terms of detail, colors, and clarity but some parts looked like they were noisier than others; such as one of the scenes in the park, the tow lot, and scenes in front of the courthouse. There was edge enhancement observed, and for me to notice it you know it was more than average, but it was still decent looking for the majority of consumers. Should Universal remaster it for a future release, I'd appreciate checking it out as a fan but I don't suspect this will happen since my belief is that few people are going to like Carrey and pass this one up in one form or another (for the record, watching the SD version on my Toshiba certainly improved the way it looked but it wasn't nearly as closely in terms of picture quality as the adult HD titles on the market at this time).
Sound: The audio was another area that received some improvement but not enough to justify an upgrade unless you find a decent sale. The primary track was a 5.1 Dolby Digital+ in English, a secondary French track added in that I listened to for kicks a bit. The separation and dynamic range were barely above the level of a TV movie of the week (my limited experience with HD DVD is that action movies fare the best in this regard) but considering most of the show was about dialogue, in the form of a lying then truthful Carrey, this wasn't all that big a deal. In the two scenes that could be labeled action sequences (Carrey in the bathroom trying to get a continuance and the chase at the airport towards the end), the show fared better but as much as I was hoping for more of an upgrade, this was a pretty basic translation from the original track, albeit slightly cleaned up with less compression and noise.
Extras: The trailer was cute and the limited outtakes were funny but to me, the best extra was the deleted scene where Carrey has to convince a conservative jury that a guy named "Skull" (played by former heavyweight boxer Randall "Tex" Cobb perfectly in an understated performance) did not commit robbery was classic. It looked really inferior compared to the film elements of the main movie but it struck me as an integral part of fully establishing Carrey's character for the movie. I also liked the director commentary by Tom Shadyac. While he didn't exactly liven up my life as a result of listening to the commentary, he provided some serious insights about the movie, some of the behind the scenes stuff going on, and the difficulties of modern day film making that struck me as worth listening to. There was also a cute little featurette called Bridging the Comdey Chasm but it was just a fluff piece for the show as far as I was concerned. I would have preferred some unique extras to this new HD DVD release but I don't suspect that will happen often until the format establishes a larger consumer audience. For the record, the extras were provided in SD DVD format with a Dolby Digital 2.0 track lacking much punch.
Final Thoughts: Liar Liar (HD DVD) held up fairly well for this Jim Carrey fan and the new technical elements for this HD DVD release were an improvement that fans will appreciate but nothing here was so much better to justify an upgrade if you already have the anamorphic widescreen version of the movie on DVD already. The extras were the same basic package and the movie's theme, while cute, was not really worth watching a whole lot compared to other shows with greater replay value. Jim Carrey made the movie and if you enjoy his comedic work, this will be a likeable enough work for his courtroom antics alone (I got the impression that the writers must have been in divorce court a time or two by the end of the show) though if you aren't a fan, it'd still be worth a rental.