Film Review: I Love You, Phillip Morris

Jim Carrey gives his all—which is certainly not nothing—in this wild carnival ride of a film.

As real-life con man Steven Russell in I Love You, Phillip Morris, Jim Carrey gives maybe his bravest performance yet, going from married cop to hustler extraordinaire, all to finance a new lifestyle he discovers is "really expensive" when he comes out as a gay man. Russell’s never-ending scams land him repeatedly in jail, but there he meets Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), a simple country boy with whom he finds true, undying love.

Rarely has any film started so high, with such bracing brio, as writer-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Bad Santa) swiftly etch the backstory of this initially seemingly normal average American Joe who we suddenly see in a jaw-dropping shot, nude and sweaty, as he takes anal pleasure with another man. Russell's coming out is a hilarious affair—all gaudy Versace shirts with a Miami background and requisite hot Latin boyfriend, and his schemes, impersonating lawyers and CEOs as he commits every imaginable kind of fraud, have you agog at his sociopathic ingenuity. Gay oral sex also comes in for its share of laughs, being the basic rate of exchange for everything once Russell lands in the clink, and this simple matter of fact is presented with a stunningly droll deadpan humor.

But, as if too enamored with their enchanting bad boy, the filmmakers forget to sufficiently layer their story, and after a while, Russell's endless connivings and returns to the hoosegow become monotonous. You want to find out more about the very attractive and spunky wife he deserted (and still supports), played with catchy verve by a largely wasted Leslie Mann. McGregor retains his fetching prettiness, after all this time, as Phillip, but remains a rather thin performer, acting his role on a single note of sunny, oh-so-sweet innocence, ever the dupe for Russell's shady blandishments. It must be mentioned, however, that, unlike those sexually modest cowpokes in Brokeback Mountain, or Liam Neeson, who could barely kiss the actor playing his Bosie when he took on the role of Oscar Wilde on Broadway, Carrey and McGregor don't stint from real PDAs, and their mutual ardor is certainly convincing. One of the most romantic scenes of 2010 has got to be when the two dance in their cell to a love song thoughtfully played (albeit for a price) by a fellow inmate.

It's been a while since we've seen Carrey in a full-scale role like this, and he brings a naked vulnerability and sensitivity to it that he's never shown before. It's all in his molten, and yet piercing, brown eyes, as he invests this unlikely role with more emotional commitment than anything he's ever done. One just wishes the film had been as richly variegated as this protean performer's talent.