Features Jim Carrey in a convincing performance yet at the end this is a dubious accomplishment. I Love You Phillip Morris has Jim Carrey as a con man and Ewan McGregor as Phillip Morris, disguising itself like feel-good entertainment for a few minutes until you see the undertow. It’s a gay love story with an unsympathetic and dishonest protagonist at its center. Lies and deception are not traits of his character; it is his character (it’s also based on a true story). All this might have been okay if it had taken a hard and perceptive approach in chronicling a pathological con artist. But it wants to be comical and quirky, and with that method, it comes out as real slimy entertainment.
Not all of it is boring, but it’s not comforting either. Steven Russell (Carrey) is a half-hearted policeman who does the dirty deed (sex!) with his wife Debbie (Leslie Mann) one minute, and then the dirty deed with a gay man the next. After Steven leaves his wife and quits his job, admitting dissatisfaction, he relocates to Florida to pursue a roving homosexual lifestyle. He wears gold watches, drives convertibles, and he lives in swank flats at adjustable low prices. Acts of fraud land him in prison.
While in prison, he falls for Phillip Morris. The most versatile and concentrated of actors, McGregor doesn’t do much in this movie other than act fey – it is not one of his more creative performances. Steven offers him the skies and the heavens, and as the dominant man he pretty much delivers. While they start out on different cellblocks, Steven soon fixes it so they can share the same cell. The movie is preoccupied with talking about oral sex a lot, which they both seem to share an affinity for its pleasures. But Steven gets a transfer to another prison which means they will have to acquiesce as pen pals. It’s not over, though, because when Steven gets out he educates himself on the law and figures out a way for Phillip’s case to be repealed.
Once they are both on the outside they are able to move in together. Steven desires for the both of them to have a grand and luxurious lifestyle. Steven becomes a lawyer imposter and gets himself a great big six-figure job at a fancy law firm. He doesn’t know what he’s doing at first but he soon masters it (these are among the most entertaining parts of the movie). But a great job is not good enough so Steven starts to defraud the law firm. New house, new cars, new jet skis – the spending doesn’t stop. But Steven is soon on the run from the law.
Steven keeps getting caught and then keeps fleeing, over and over again, for the rest of the film. Phillip is a flustered romantic object who gets tired of waiting for Steven, and then eventually, stops trusting him. Can Phillip love Steven back even through all that distrust? The film arrives at the most distasteful con, involving terminal disease and bilking the system, you will ever come across in a movie – if it fooled me it will likely fool most of everybody. This isn’t funny. This is about deep mental illness of a protagonist with sociopathic profiling. But the filmmakers want you to laugh it off. Take a shower at home afterwards and scrub off the muck.
102 minutes. Rated R.
COMEDY / PSYCHODRAMA / FALL MOVIE
Film Cousins: “Six Degrees of Separation” (1993); “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999); “Panic” (2000); “Chuck & Buck” (2000).