Jerry Lewis might seem like an odd jumping-off point for an exploration of the entertainment industry's underbelly, but there's a reason novelist Rupert Holmes chose a Lewis surrogate as one of the focal points for Where The Truth Lies, a mystery about the mysterious death of a young woman as it relates the breakup of a Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis-like team. For one, there's that breakup. Lewis' public falling out with Martin at the height of their success revealed that all wasn't smiles in the life of America's most beloved clown. But that aside, Lewis has never been reluctant about showing the cracks in the façade while pretending that the façade remained intact. In interviews and on his telethons, Lewis wants to simultaneously play the clown, a sentimental do-gooder, an epitome-of-cool hipster, a disrespected artist, and a down-to-earth, man-of-the people entertainer. The demands of the business pull his persona in all directions; being Jerry Lewis must be an even more maddening task than trying to figure out who the real Jerry Lewis is.
Kevin Bacon may not be an obvious choice to play Lewis surrogate Lanny Morris in Atom Egoyan's film adaptation of Where The Truth Lies, but he turns out to be an excellent fit for the role. "Having to be a nice guy is the toughest thing in the world if you're not," he tells Alison Lohman, a reporter writing a book about his breakup with partner Colin Firth (playing a near-exact cross between Dean Martin and Peter Lawford) 15 years after the fact. The line—and Bacon's downcast expression as he delivers it—say everything that needs saying about the burdens of having a dark side in a profession that doesn't allow for one.
Sadly, unlike Bacon, the rest of Where The Truth Lies never finds a way to burrow into the material's dark heart. Egoyan is pretty much incapable of making an inelegant film, and Where The Truth Lies is no exception. But his sensibility doesn't quite fit the material. His trademark stone-faced austerity never bends to capture the black comedy in the dissonance between his characters' public and private lives. It almost demands a trashier approach.
Not that there isn't plenty of titillating stuff in the film, which initially earned an NC-17 rating before receiving an unrated release, but Egoyan needs to be as explicit dramatically as he is visually. Instead, Truth maintains a too-respectful distance that isn't helped by the first weak performance of Lohman's career. No matter how much sordid material she uncovers, and how deeply her own life gets drawn into it, she seems untouched by it all. It's easy to share her detachment.