If there’s one thing “The Invention of Lying” proves, it’s that Ricky Gervais has almost perfect comedic timing. There’s no reason he shouldn’t join the esteemed rank of brilliance already occupied by Jim Carrey and Steve Carell — who’s only playing an American version of Gervais’s original character on “The Office,” anyway. At the very least he should host an awards show or two.

‘The Invention of Lying’

At Quality 16 and Showcase
Warner Bros.

In “Invention,” Gervais plays Mark Bellison, a portly loser with no financial or romantic prospects to speak of. Bellison lives in a world where no one has ever lied. Accordingly, people continually tell him to his face just how worthless he is. This includes his crush (Jennifer Garner, “Juno”), who clearly likes him but can’t stand to be with a man who will father “fat kids with snub noses.”

As the title suggests, Mark soon discovers he is capable of speaking falsehoods, and people will actually believe him. In a world where people believe anything anyone says (after all, why wouldn’t they?), Mark can essentially get away with whatever he wants. At first he uses this power selfishly: getting money, taking revenge on his friends at work and the like. But soon, Mark starts to use this ability to help others — like when he tells his dying mother that after death she will live in an eternally blissful state in which “everyone gets mansions.” Mark has just invented heaven.

Mark’s words on the afterlife touch a chord in everyone, and soon followers are gathered outside of his apartment to hear what else Mark has to say about what happens after you die and “the man in the sky.” There are shades of “Monty Python’s Life of Brian” here, and the film’s funniest moments arise from a scene in which Mark spends hours fielding questions from the crowd about the exact details of the afterlife and how to get a mansion. For example: There is no hairstyle that will keep you out of heaven.

At this point, the movie takes a turn from lighthearted comedy to theological commentary. The film makes some not-so-subtle jabs at religion, portraying Mark as a Jesus-type misleading the naïve masses into believing they need to do good in order to live in a mansion and eat ice cream all the time after they die. Shortly thereafter Mark is being hailed as a prophet — and making millions of dollars off of it.

So, is the film saying religion is a lie? Well, it does offer a different view of the way many approach religion, which is sure to be a tough pill to swallow. But the light-hearted tone of the film makes it hard to judge whether it actually wants to be taken seriously. Some could argue that the joke is clearly on religion — a fact the previews try to hide. It is reminiscent of Kevin Smith’s work in “Dogma,” which had many up in arms over its casual abuse of religious ideas. Here, though, it appears that Gervais wishes us to laugh, rather than to think too deeply into what he is saying, and therefore, the joke may be on us if we take it as gospel.

Regardless, for a comedy to work even with such a heavy message is impressive. Gervais has a way of making the audience laugh by presenting himself as the everyman who just happens to get the girl. He charms us completely, we feel for him and we laugh with him, too — even if we don’t always agree with him.

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