Michael Shannon plays a handyman who impersonates a famous writer in this grievously unfunny comedy.
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By Jeannette Catsoulis
Giving Michael Shannon the lead in a comedy is as counterintuitive as casting Jack Black as an action hero. Yet Shannon’s halting, withdrawn presence in Michael Maren’s “A Little White Lie,” an otherwise atrocious literary farce, burns an unpredictable black hole in the movie’s froth of clichéd exchanges and corny musical cues. Eventually, every other character will be sucked in.
Shannon plays Shriver, a monosyllabic handyman who’s mistakenly invited to be the guest of honor at a college literary festival and decides to roll with it. The event’s organizer, an English professor named Simone (Kate Hudson, reliably charming), believes him to be a quite different Shriver, a famously reclusive author who hasn’t been seen in two decades. Simone needs his clout to save her fest from cancellation; what Shriver needs is anyone’s guess.
What he gets are romantic feelings for Simone, though these are difficult to discern beneath a befuddled expression that endures through a missing-poet subplot, inexplicable visions and an attack by a randy gynecologist (Wendie Malick, I’m so sorry). A smirking Don Johnson lounges on the periphery as Simone’s horse-riding, Byron-quoting colleague, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph, playing a Shriver superfan, adds a bright energy to her brief appearances.
Hobbled by a lack of visual oomph or verbal sparkle, “A Little White Lie” pokes feebly at impostor syndrome and writerly insecurity. Adapting Chris Belden’s 2013 novel, “Shriver,” Maren settles for a muddled mystery and a limp love connection. Shannon and Hudson never look half as happy together as Don Johnson looks on the back of that horse.
A Little White Lie
Rated R for purple prose. Running time: 1 hour 41 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on most major platforms.
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