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Your parents always told you that honesty is the best policy. But what would a world be like where no one ever lies?

That’s the question at the heart of “The Invention of Lying,” a high-concept comedy that raises some interesting philosophical questions.

Written and directed by Ricky Gervais (the original British version of “The Office”) and newcomer Matthew Robinson, “The Invention of Lying” is an inventive, thought provoking and even daring farce.

The story takes place in an alternative universe that appears very much like our own. The only difference, of course, is that no one lies. Everyone is brutally frank, lacking any guile or pretense. That would be a good thing, right?

This, of course, is a world without much imagination or artistry. All storytelling is strictly of the historical, fact-based variety.

Gervais plays Mark Bellison, a screenwriter whose tepid career is in a downward spiral. Worse, he’s short, pudgy and unattractive. He’s smitten with a pretty woman named Anna (Jennifer Garner from “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”), but she wants to mate with a handsome man who can give her attractive kids. It’s all about the genes, you know.

In fact, Anna will probably wind up with Mark’s main rival, Brad Kessler (Rob Lowe from TV’s “Brothers and Sisters”), an unnaturally handsome man who is a successful screenwriter.

Mark loses his job, is evicted from his apartment and goes to the bank to withdraw the meager few dollars he has left. Just when things are looking grim, he has an epiphany. Why be honest?

He begins telling little white lies that are, initially, beneficial. But things get sticky when he comforts his mother on her deathbed by telling her that she’s headed toward a happy afterlife. People overhear his words and believe that he’s got some insider knowledge.

Soon, Mark becomes a reluctant Moses, telling the masses about a “man in the sky” who created everything. While this news is welcome to some, others are enraged. How dare this “man in the sky” create cancer and natural disasters?

Gervais and Robinson exploit this premise to mine a lot of laughs in the movie’s first half-hour. Although the rest of the movie can’t quite live up to that hilarious first reel, it’s still far funnier than most Hollywood product and it benefits greatly from some terrific performances by the leads and a series of snappy cameos.

“The Invention of Lying” is a diverting mix of lowbrow and cerebral comedy that may provoke some interesting post movie coffee talk. (PG-13) Rating: ***1/2

* Avoid at all costs
** Only if you're bored
*** Good movie
**** Well worth your time
***** Be sure to see it

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