How in-your-face can a movie get? I Love You Phillip Morris presents the outrageous fact-based adventures of a notorious con man, as told by the guys who made Bad Santa, with echoes of Raising Arizona. And it stars Jim Carrey. Excess piled on excess, starring the King of Excess. Hope you're in the mood.
Con artist extraordinaire Steven Russell is currently behind bars in Texas, serving a ridiculously long sentence (144 years!) for repeatedly treating authority figures the way Bugs Bunny treats Elmer Fudd. At various times he successfully passed himself off as a judge, a doctor, an FBI agent and a lawyer. He became the chief financial officer of a company using phony credentials. He faked a terminal illness. And he escaped from prison over and over – on Friday the 13th, the birthdate of his beloved Phillip Morris.
I Love You Phillip Morris is a gay love story, and if the notion of two men having sex makes you uncomfortable, there's a good chance you'll find yourself squirming as much as two men having sex during a big, sweaty, thrusty scene early in the film that informs the audience of Russell's orientation. Just in case the visuals aren't clear enough, Russell's partner offers a loud verbal description of what the fellows are doing.
Excess piled on excess. I Love You Phillip Morris works best when it's moving along all cheerful and brisk, high on its own audacity. When the movie tries to get serious, it sputters.
Jim Carrey puts his all into the role. How's that for a scary sentence? Steven Russell is a larger-than-life character and Carrey mixes his Serious Actor stylings with his Anything for a Laugh comedic straining. I'm not a fan of Carrey the serious actor – too hammy – and even less of Carrey the comedian, because of his tendency towards leering gooniness. Watching someone trying too hard is grating, and Carrey can really get on my nerves. That said, he does better work here than in most of his films. With Bad Santa filmmakers John Requa and Glenn Ficarra taking the Raising Arizona approach, adding a cartoonish edge is no crime. But watching Carrey as Russell batting his cow eyes while pretending to be terminally ill is pretty hard to watch.
Oh, and the love story is unconvincing. Ewan McGregor offers a mild performance as Phillip Morris, playing the soft-spoken character as a befuddled Southern belle. Russell proclaims his love for Morris and the two are given to broadly theatrical displays of their romance, but for the most part, it appears that Russell is mostly in love with the idea of being in a grand love affair, and that Morris is swept up by all the attention and fuss.
I Love You Phillip Morris is big fun when it serves as a spirited illustration of a real-life tall tale. The over-the-top parts work. It's the little, human moments that don't.