Twelve year old Thomas Miller (Forrest Landis) can't help telling outrageous lies even if they get him in trouble with teachers or other kids at school. Only skater girl Jackie (AnnaSophia Robb) shows him any affection but Thomas would rather romance glamorous Madison (Taylor Momsen, doing a posh English accent for some reason) who is unfortunately dating the school bully. After promising his long-suffering Mom (Lea Thompson) he will ease off on the fibbing, Thomas is unexpectedly drawn into a real-life crisis when he hears someone plotting to kidnap the President's daughter (Melanie Abramoff) when she visits the school dance. Naturally no-one believes the kid who is a compulsive liar. So Thomas decides he and Jackie have to save the day.
Filmed as Doubting Thomas this was released under a variety of alternate titles like Spy School and Lies and Spies. Obviously to make it seem more like a spy kids movie in the style of, er, Spy Kids (2001) or Agent Cody Banks (2003) even though Thomas is not a secret agent, except perhaps in his own mind. He does don a James Bond-style tuxedo for the lively third act, though the plot is more a modern twist on the time-honoured story of the boy who cried wolf. Rather than trade on action or special effects (although Mark Blutman stages some skateboarding chases to thrill the kids along with one cool sequence where Thomas and Miller escape an exploding fireball through an air vent) the film opts for mild suspense. It is not Cloak and Dagger (1984) but builds a fair level of juvenile paranoia as Thomas tries to figure out who among several suspects is the real wannabe kidnapper: stuffy Principal Hamilton (Roger Bart), cool substitute teacher Mr. Randall (Rider Strong), friendly janitor Albert (D.L. Hughley) or someone else entirely.
Less successful is the subplot involving Jackie's unrequited love for Thomas which suffers from the strange choice to characterize the child hero as a mouthy brat who clearly fancies himself. Not only does Thomas treat poor love-struck Jackie like a doormat whilst flirting with Madison ("I like to keep my options open"), he chides her when she momentarily stops fawning over him. Blutman tries to craft a more complex protagonist who uses lies to cope with anxieties over his parents separation and shame that his dad (Mitch Rouse) is a deadbeat garbage man. The script tries to make Thomas seem cool to kids but he is too cocky, with the perfect put-down for grownups and kid bullies alike, to convince as a downtrodden misfit or engender much sympathy. Although this proved the last film to date for seasoned child star Taylor Momsen before she went on to grace teen soap Gossip Girl and front shock rock band The Pretty Reckless, co-star AnnaSophia Robb went on to bigger and better things. Her soulful acting and blue-eyed charisma completely eclipse young Forrest Miller, veteran of Steve Martin's two Cheaper By the Dozen films. It is more the fault of the script than poor Miller, who does what he can, but many will likely wish Jackie were driving this plot instead. Especially since her character injects a disarmingly philosophical note when she asks whether he believes life is random or predetermined and tries to debate the facile nature of popularity. She is like the secret love child of Immanuel Kant and Judy Blume.
The foundation of the film is a muddled moral wherein Thomas learns "It is not what you do, it's who you are." By which they mean integrity means more than social status so Thomas should think more of his dad. At the same time, when it comes to movies, actions define character. Which means Thomas' actions during the crazy finale make him seem more reckless and dumb than heroic. As a mark the film's weird and confusing concept of budding masculinity the theme song is 'Macho Man' by the Village People. Huh?