"The first half-hour of The Invention of Lying, co-directed and co-written by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson, is so sharply fresh, clever and laugh-out-loud hilarious that you can't help but wonder how they'll sustain it for another hour," writes Michael Rechtshaffen in the Hollywood Reporter. "To be honest, they can't. But even when it's merely mildly amusing, this inspired parable, set in a parallel universe where only the truth is spoken, is so wittily winsome you'll readily cut Gervais and Robinson some slack if they don't quite succeed in going the distance."
It "may be a one-joke concept," notes Scott Tobias at the AV Club, "but it's a hell of a joke: What if we lived in a society where everyone told the truth - and what's more, felt compelled to vocalize whatever was on their mind? And then, what if one person 'invented' lying? What kind of power would they have to manipulate a world where everything is taken at face value?"
"The Invention of Lying quickly dispenses with the obvious (gorgeous women as easy pickings) before arriving at its most provocative subject: the birth of religion." David Edelstein in New York: "For along with lying comes something more altruistic: the impulse to utter what Eugene O'Neill called the 'life-lie,' the belief that gives comfort to people without hope.... No question, Gervais and Robinson burlesque doctrine, but their target seems less the religious impulse than the superstitious fables that follow in its wake. After all, they've shown that unvarnished social Darwinism leads nowhere very nice, whereas empathy and spirituality are truly adaptive traits."
"As often happens with high-concept comedies, the film trips over its own logic," writes Julian Sancton for Vanity Fair. "Why, for example, wouldn't everybody kill themselves if there is not a shred of doubt in their minds that Mark's stories of an afterlife are true? Regardless, the religion plot line helps elevate the movie above simply being a reverse Liar Liar to approach Life of Brian levels of satire."
"Gervais and Robinson are in fascinating satirical territory here," writes Justin Chang in Variety, "and they stop just short of saying there's no greater lie than the idea that life has any eternal meaning or value. Yet while they offer food for thought, their approach remains disarmingly sweet, breezy and good-humored; even when the pic threatens to turn either serious or sticky, it always has a terrific gag or non sequitur up its sleeve."
"The Invention of Lying mixes American brashness with British dryness; maybe that's why its debut in Canada - a nation, culturally, still somewhere between those two comedy superpowers - ... seems so appropriate." James Rocchi at the Redblog: "And the supporting cast - including Louis CK, Jeffery Tambor, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, Christopher Guest and a couple of cameos too good to spoil reads like a Who's Who of 20th century comedy."
Allan Hunter for Screen: "Although Lying clearly works as a film, there is still a sense of television to its reliance on a structure of set-up, gag and punchline and a certain sketchiness as Gervais works in a number of distracting Extras-style A-list cameos (Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Bateman) and a scene with his television regulars Stephen Merchant and Shaun Williamson. The sketchiness does still produce some memorable moments, though."
"By playing a chubby little man whose sense of himself as a loser can't be changed by wealth and fame, [Gervais] rips open potentially autobiographical wounds, and also exorcises them," suggests Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "But it's hard to write this off as public therapy - The Invention of Lying is just too damn fun."
At Vulture, Lane Brown demands that Gervais be signed up to host an awards show.
In the current issue of the Atlantic, James Parker considers Gervais and Russell Brand, "Two comedians, two libidos, two Englands. And if America can accept them both - well, she's an even more generous hostess than I took her for."
Update, 9/24: Online viewing tip. At Film Detail: "Karl Pilkington reviews The Invention of Lying."
Updates, 10/1: For Alonso Duralde, writing at MSNBC, this is "a mess of a story that doesn't follow its own rules and never reaches the comic heights you'd expect from the artists involved."
"If the film's reverse-Liar Liar premise is hard to sustain," writes Sukhdev Sandhu in the Telegraph, "that's even more true of its religion-ridiculing middle section whose desire to poke fun at the delusions of mass devotion is undermined by the fervour with which it crams every other shot with product placements."
More from David Fear (Time Out New York), Paul Matwychuk, Keith Phipps (AV Club), Nick Pinkerton (Voice), Nick Schager (Slant) and Armond White (New York Press).
James Rocchi talks with the main players for MSN.
Updates, 10/2: "With The Invention of Lying, a mostly funny if melancholic defense of deceit, Mr Gervais has come up with the makings of a classic," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Alas, making is not doing."
"There's no hope that Gervais' performance in The Invention of Lying will open up new hope for a different kind of leading man - and that's what makes his resoluteness so great." Stephanie Zacharek in Salon: "Gervais, like all comic performers, must want us to love him. And maybe what we love most about him is the fact that he knows when to say, 'Sod it.'"
"It's one thing for Gervais to air his atheism on the standup circuit. It's quite another to do so in the guise of a glossy, user-friendly sitcom pitched squarely at the huddled masses in the American multiplex. So Gervais bamboozles us and suckers us in. His comedy pretends to be unthreatening, a harmless little wheeze, and then pushes the envelope to its logical conclusion." 4 out of 5 stars from the Guardian's Xan Brooks.
"Watching Gervais in Lying... one gets the sense that we're finally seeing the man underneath the angry clown's greasepaint," writes the Washington Post's Ann Hornaday.
For Slant's Nick Schager, "It's a devolution into sitcom mawkishness... that finally undoes Invention of Lying, which turns its attention away from imposing issues of faith, greed, and social responsibility to focus on the dreary rom-com-routine suspense of whether true love will trump pragmatic superficiality."
Updates, 10/3: "The Invention of Lying is the worst film I've seen at the cinema since Highlander II." Dan North elaborates.
"In movie's weird and intermittently hilarious middle section, Mark copes with the aftermath of becoming the world's first prophet," writes Dana Stevens in Slate. "But shortly thereafter, like your funniest and smartest college friend settling for a subpar spouse, The Invention of Lying breaks your heart by giving itself over to a noxious romantic plot."