Telling Lies In America

on October 17, 1997 by Cathy Thompson-Georges
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   No topless bimbos. No ice picks. No Paul Verhoeven. "Telling Lies in America" hardly looks like a Joe Eszterhas effort at all. Instead of a glossy cookie-cutter thriller, this film is a semi-autobiographical tale of an American boyhood--immigrant style.
   "Telling Lies" benefits greatly from a strong performance from Brad Renfro as Karchy, a Hungarian emigrant teenager in '50s Cleveland. Also powerful is Kevin Bacon as a flashy local DJ who takes the lonely, insecure Karchy under his rather soiled wing. If Karchy's coming-of-age is something of a Hollywood cliche, no one involved with this film acts like it. The message implicit in the film's conclusion--that lying is at the heart of the American way--tells us more about Esterhas than he might have intended it to, but it is also a welcome departure from the sticky syrup we see all too often in such films.
   Some of the screenwriter's trademark crudity (this IS the man who gave us "Showgirls," after all) seeps in, in Karchy's nasty treatment of the woman he pursues (a luminous Callista Flockhart)--treatment which the film presents as highly amusing boyish hijinks. And there's a scene in which Karchy desecrates a confessional in a Catholic church which is simply appalling.
   In general, however, "Telling Lies" has a rich '50s flavor and showcases strong work from its cast. Bacon's Billy Magic is a wonderful creation, a shade or three darker than your standard lovable rogue. Journeyman director Guy Ferland has done a credible job bringing this story to the screen, and has won outstanding performances all around. If "Telling Lies" finally comes off as a little slick and a little pat, it's still miles removed from Eszterhas' worse, and is more truthful than its title would suggest.    Starring Brad Renfro, Kevin Bacon, Maximillian Schell and Calista Flockhart. Directed by Guy Ferland. Written by Joe Eszterhas. Produced by Ben Myron and Fran Kuzui. A Banner Entertainment release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for sex-related situations. Running time: 101 min.
Tags: Starring Brad Renfro, Kevin Bacon, Maximillian Schell and Calista Flockhart. Directed by Guy Ferland, Written by Joe Eszterhas, Produced by Ben Myron, Fran Kuzui, Banner Entertainment, Drama
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