I Love You Phillip Morris
2010, R, 100 min. Directed by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa. Starring Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro, Antoni Corone, Brennan Brown.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 17, 2010
Loosely based on the outrageous life and incarcerated times of Texan con artist Steven Jay Russell, I Love You Phillip Morris is every bit as strange as its subject matter. It's something of a comeback vehicle for Carrey, although the film struggles to find a tone somewhere between outright farce and redemptive gay love story played straight. If that sounds confusing, it is, and I Love You Phillip Morris does itself no favors by attempting to be all things to all Carrey fans. As it is, Russell's convoluted life is puzzling enough; adding less-than-nuanced layers of Carrey's incessant mugging to the character only complicates matters. Carrey plays Russell as a borderline sociopath and liar who has an ever-ready, aw-shucks grin and the scruples of a born predator. Introducing us to his world via an unnecessary voiceover narration, Russell begins the film as a Houston cop who is married and has children and a seriously intense religious life. After a quick change of profession, Russell becomes involved in a subplot about tracking down his birth mother, but that goes nowhere fast. Next comes some early, testing-the-waters insurance fraud. Then Russell's life changes – or, rather, is revealed to be a sham – after he's T-boned in an automobile accident while on the way home from an extramarital one-nighter with a gay hookup. Declaring his newly acquired lust for the good, gay life to the attending EMTs and then breaking the news to his wife (Mann, fine and bubbly), Russell decamps to South Beach, where he discovers, as that irksome narration reveals, "being gay is expensive. Russell's far, far-beyond-his-means lifestyle quickly attracts the unwanted attention of both the local and Texas authorities, and voilà, he's Huntsville-bound. There he meets the titular Phillip Morris (McGregor, oddly cast), a shy, unassumingly gay boy-toy who instantly falls for this charming man. The pair’s eventual release, further fascinating fraudulent activities, and silly hijinks ensue. What is this film about, and what does it want to be? Damned if I know. It's far too broadly comic to be taken as a serious study of the inner workings of a professional con man, and it never quite takes itself seriously enough to be anything more than another over-the-top Jim Carrey performance. It's confused and confusing, by turns hilarious and off-putting. In short, it's awfully hard to love I Love You Philip Morris.