You won't love the odd comedy "I Love You Phillip Morris"
The new comedy "I Love You Phillip Morris" is one of the most unusual films seen in recent memory. Not the fact that two mainstream straight actors, Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor, are playing gay men but the fact that the often bizarre low-budget farce is a true story, based on the exploits of real-life con artist and prison escapee Steven Russell, who's still serving time in Texas as this is written. Carrey's performance is the best thing about the odd, uneven movie.
The story begins with Russell (Jim Carrey), apparently on his deathbed, recalling the events of his life. He begins with his early adult years in Virginia Beach as a happily married police officer. He plays the organ at church, has enthusiastic sex with his wife (Leslie Mann), is a doting father, and spends his off hours searching for his biological mother, who gave him up as a child.
After a violent car crash, Russell leaves previous life behind, and goes out into the world as his true self, which is as a gay man that he has secretly lived for years. He moves to Miami, finds a boyfriend (Rodrigo Santoro) and begins living a very expensive lifestyle. The need for money causes him to turn to a life as a conman. When his con work finally starts to catch up with him, Russell is sent to prison, where he sees and immediately falls in love with Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor). From there on, it becomes the story of a forlorn lover who cannot bear to be separated from his soul-mate and will go to any lengths to be with Phillip.
"I Love You Phillip Morris" is an uneven, odd dramedy about Russell's exploits that's far more interesting on paper than played out here. It's had distribution problems and has been sitting on the shelf the last two years and was re-edited during that to make it more mainstream. Unfortunately, the newly re-edited film has lost a certain edge in the process and falters between dark, dark comedy and over-the-top farce with a little drama thrown in for good measure, with so much thrown at the screen to see what sticks.
The film's dark tone is unsurprising given that it's directed and written by the team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, responsible for a much better dark comedy, "Bad Santa." The highlight of the film is a great Carrey performance, who unsurprisingly carries the film on his back with his stellar comic timing and presence, though it's really nothing different than he's done before.
As good as Carrey makes the film, it makes you wonder how differently the film would've been shaded with a less comic actor and a more dramatic one. Carrey's schtick overtakes the film (as for poor Ewan McGregor, he's wasted in a much smaller part than Carrey's) and what could've been an inspired film turns into another Carrey comedy. Leslie Mann ("Knocked Up") has a few good moments as Russell's confused but loving ex-wife.
Surprisingly, "I Love You Phillip Morris" isn't as shocking or as graphic as it could've been, and it falters in delivering an emotional connection. "I Love You Phillip Morris," given the comic presence of Carrey and an intriguing real-life story, is unfortunately just a big disappointment.