Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Review: "I Love You Phillip Morris"

"I Love You Phillip Morris" is Jim Carrey's Big Gay Comedy.

Or maybe it's a drama; sometimes it's hard to tell. The studio is pushing it hard for Oscar nominations, so somebody wants it to be taken seriously. But the most important thing you need to know about this movie is that it's gay -- really, really gay!

Carrey, as serial con man Steven Russell, tells us so in his honey-dipped narration, flashing that big Cheshire grin: "Did I forget to mention that I'm gay? Gay, gay, gay, gay, gay!"

The story of Steven Russell, a real guy who repeatedly broke out of prison under the most audacious circumstances, would have made a compelling movie -- especially since, according to the book by Steven McVicker, he did it all out of love for Phillip Morris, another inmate played by Ewan McGregor.

But Carrey and McGregor don't play their romance straight (pun intended.) It's a jokey, flirty pile of wink-wink to let the audience know these two heterosexual actors are pretending to be in love just to get a laugh. Other than a few smooches, even their sex is shunted off-screen or just out of frame.

Co-writers/directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra treat the material as absurdist comedy. Steven is a former police officer with a Bible-thumping wife (Leslie Mann) who secretly sports around with other men. After a near-fatal car accident, he resolves to stop telling lies and live as his true self.

After moving to Miami and picking up some boy-toy arm candy (Rodrigo Santoro), Steven has an epiphany: Being gay is really, really expensive! To keep his boyfriend decked out in finery and fun times, he turns to insurance fraud and winds up in prison.

There he meets Phillip, a timid twink (Google it) who needs protection. Convincing him that they're soul mates, Steven arranges for them to share the same cell, and later even poses as Phillip's attorney to get him sprung early.

Steven's biggest con is getting hired as the CFO of a large company, where he proceeds to embezzle money to keep himself and Phillip in luxurious style. Curiously, Steven does not actually steal from the company's coffers, but discovers an ingenious way to earn interest on their holdings, adding to their bottom line -- and keeping half for himself.

The film's main entertainment value is in watching all the crazy schemes Steven comes up with to get out of jail. He impersonates a judge phoning the court clerk to get his bail lowered, and even uses felt markers to dye his prison uniform green so he resembles a doctor, and simply walks past the guards.

Steven's M.O. is to be openly contemptuous of those he's fooling -- and it's also the same for the filmmakers. To them, it's the corporate honchos and church-going wives and gullible corrections employees who are the suckers deserving of mockery, not the criminal who outwits them.

The exception, of course, being Phillip, who is Steven's one true love -- until, that is, a sudden flashback near the end that casts his affection for Phillip into doubt.

The moral is supposed to be that Steven Russell tells so many lies, he loses sight of the person inside. But really, the people "I Love You Phillip Morris" is most putting one over on is the audience.

2.5 stars out of four

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