Mark Reviews Movies

I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS

2 Stars (out of 4)

Directors: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa

Cast: Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro

MPAA Rating: R (for sexual content including strong dialogue, and language)

Running Time: 1:40

Release Date: 12/3/10 (limited); 12/10/10 (wider)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 9, 2010

Steven Jay Russell does exist, and his story actually happened. "It really did," I Love You Phillip Morris even reassures us after stating as much once. We almost expect a, "No, seriously, it really, really happened," before the final credits begin to roll.

Yes, it's quite a feat that Russell escaped so many times from so many different prisons in so many inventive ways, and yes, it's a shame that he must now serve an outlandish sentence in maximum security institution (until he makes his next escape), apparently because he made the state of Texas look bad by their repeated failures to contain him. Those are, as they say, the breaks, kid. You reap what you sow. You really can't keep a good cliché down in circumstances like this.

The simple fact is writer/directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa don't give us much in the way of a point of sympathy with Russell, except his ability to cheat generically unlikable systems (prisons and the opulence of the world of corporate executives) and say he's entirely motivated by a need to love and be loved in return. Even that last one's a bit of a stretch, considering how dismissive he is of the man who loves him no matter what stupid thing he does next while enjoying the perks of affluence without him.

By the way, Russell is gay and not just gay but "gay, gay, gay, gay, gay," he announces in voiceover while in the heat of proving the fact through action more than words ever could. It's a minor point to his personality, except that he doesn't openly admit it to anyone until he's been married with a daughter for some years. He has a problem with hiding things, and lying comes naturally to him.

Jim Carrey plays Russell, who begins the movie right before that turning point. Adopted, he becomes a cop just to aid in his search for his biological mother. Their reunion doesn't go too well: She denies knowing what he's talking about (in spite of knowing his name), and he discovers he was her middle child.

After a car accident, he has an epiphany and declares he's going to start being honest about his life. He leaves his wife Debbie (Leslie Mann), moves to Florida, gets a boyfriend (Rodrigo Santoro), and quickly learns that he spends far too much money on clothes, watches, cars, etc., etc. He becomes a con man to foot the bill.

Russell's life is one scam after another swindle. He pretends to be a lawyer from the country with down-home learning. He fakes a résumé to become the CFO of a company, where he manages to increase their real earnings far beyond the projected ones. He takes money that the company will eventually pay out and puts it in a short-term interest-earning account, giving half of the profit to the company and taking half for himself.

No one of any importance thinks to ask any questions about his credentials, because he's good at faking it. No one asks about the money, because they benefit from the profits as well.

A few suspect Russell, particularly Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), a man he meets by chance in the prison library during his first stint. They talk the day away, and Russell manages to make them cellmates, where Phillip has their neighbor play a ballad on the radio for them to slow dance against the background of the music and their fellow inmate being beaten for disobeying the rules.

The tone of Ficarra and Requa's screenplay (based on Steven McVicker's book) is a constant, spastic, clumsy juggling act, shifting from the overload of ironic backstory to the absurdist perspective of prison life and back to the detailed look at Russell's career as a con artist. The relationship between Russell and Phillip, so strangely tender amidst the noise of jail, is pushed without warning into the background, as Russell's more honest nature of selfishness takes over (despite his protests). The whole movie enters into whiplash territory after the law catches up to him again, other creative jailbreaks fail, and Russell's health situation becomes desperate. Just when we've adjusted to the sudden mood swing, it jolts right back.

To what end Russell's bizarre journey is told, though, is a decided blank. I Love You Phillip Morris is proof that just because a story is strange and seemingly unlikely does not inherently make it worth the telling.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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