Moviegoers discovered over the weekend that actor and director Ricky Gervais not only lies in his new film, but that he also lied when assuring them that "The Invention of Lying" is not atheist propaganda.
"It's Hollywood's big atheist comedy," wrote New York Post movie critic Kyle Smith on Sunday.
Several days before the Oct. 2 release of "The Invention of Lying," Smith revealed that the movie "might be the most blatantly, one-sidedly atheist movie ever released by a major studio, in this case Warner Bros."
But contrary to what you might think, Smith is not "one of those hyper-sensitive Bible lovers who thinks the secularists are coming to strip my Christmas tree down to a Midwinter Solstice Pole."
"Actually, no. Like Gervais, I'm an atheist," he confessed.
And even for Smith, "The Invention of Lying" was over-the-top.
"Gervais delights in what a faith-based society would call blasphemy, setting up an imaginary world in which no one ever lies. Except his character, who spreads what Gervais obviously sees as the biggest lie of all: Belief in God," the film critic wrote in his personal blog.
The movie – directed, produced, and starring Gervais – is set in an alternative reality in which no one has ever lied. And not only does no one tell a lie, but people often tell the entire truth, or blurt out very blunt remarks and opinions that people in normal society would normally keep to themselves.
Organized religion does not exist in this world, nor are there any forms of fiction, in both film and literature.
So when unsuccessful lecture-film writer Mark Bellison (Gervais) invents the first lie by telling a bank teller that he has $500 more than he actually has (and gets away with it), he begins lying to others and helping people feel better about themselves and help others with their relationships.
The lies start spiraling out of control, however, when he tries to comfort his dying mother at the hospital by telling her that she will not go into a state of nothingness, as she believes, but rather to a place where everyone gets their own mansion and where she will be young and happy and be with the people she loves.
Though the news of this "kind of place you go to after you die" successfully makes Bellison's mother happy right before she dies, it also spreads like wildfire until millions around the world believe he is a kind of Messiah, or Prophet.
From there on out, Gervais' character ends up telling people about the "Man in the Sky" who is looking down at everyone and is responsible for everything that happens – including diseases and tragedies (prompting one magazine headline later to read: "Man in the Sky Kills 40,000 in Tsunami!").
He also crafts a ridiculously simple-minded 10-point creed on pizza boxes (like the 10 Commandments) and later becomes outfitted like Jesus – with his beard, long hair, and bedsheet.
"His (Gervais') new film, 'The Invention of Lying,' illustrates why Nora Ephron and Christopher Hitchens don't write screenplays together," commented Smith. "It begins in frilly cuteness but soon becomes a labored, blunt, loud attack on religion, especially Christianity."
Though Smith said believes Gervais has one of the most brilliant minds in comedy today, the movie critic confessed that he wished Gervais had not made "The Invention of Lying," which he believes will be a flop and also damage him in Hollywood.
"Gervais is an atheist, which is fine, but his mean-spiritedness (even before the atheism theme enters the movie, it's sour and misanthropic) and the film's reduction of all religion to an episode of crowd hysteria are not going to be warmly received," commented Smith.
The critic also criticized the movie for being an "ill-tempered fraud" - sentiments shared by a number of other critics and moviegoers.
Michelle McGinty of Beliefnet.com said she was stunned to find out that the movie was anti-Christian after initially thinking (based on the trailer) that "The Invention of Lying" was just a fantasy movie about a universe where lying doesn't exist until Gervais introduces it.
"I have no problem watching movies written by atheists, I went to see the 'Golden Compass.' I have no problem watching movies that mock or excoriate Christians, I thought 'The Big Kahuna' was brilliant," she wrote in her "Reformed Chicks Blabbing" blog Tuesday.
"Knowing that I'll be mocked is one thing but being duped into paying to see a movie that insults me as a gullible sap is another. It's a good thing I'm not gullible enough to go see a movie without reading a review first," she added.
Over its opening weekend, "The Invention of Lying" pulled in $7.2 million, finishing up fourth at the box office behind "Zombieland" ($24.7M), "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" ($15.8M), and "Toy Story"/"Toy Story 2" 3D ($12.5M).
The film's budget was reportedly $18.5 million.