I Love You Phillip Morris opens with the cheeky preface “This Really Happened” rather than the staid “Based on a True Story” or the standard “Inspired by Actual Events” -- a creative decision that playfully prepares audiences for the sheer lunacy they’re about to witness. Steve Russell (Jim Carrey) was a small-town cop. Bored with his bland...read more
I Love You Phillip Morris opens with the cheeky preface “This Really Happened” rather than the staid “Based on a True Story” or the standard “Inspired by Actual Events” -- a creative decision that playfully prepares audiences for the sheer lunacy they’re about to witness.
Steve Russell (Jim Carrey) was a small-town cop. Bored with his bland marriage to reverent wife Debbie (Leslie Mann) and inspired to come bursting out of the closet following a near-fatal car accident, Russell turns to fraud to maintain his flamboyant new lifestyle, only to discover that crime doesn’t pay when he’s handed an extended prison sentence. But life behind bars proves a blessing in disguise when Russell falls head over heels for kind-hearted convict Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), who’s serving time for failing to return a rental car. Smitten, Russell devotes his entire life to being with Morris regardless of the consequences -- which could well include a life sentence when, after both are released from prison, Russell cons his way into a high-paying position as CFO for a prominent medical management company. Later, when Russell’s misdeeds land him in prison yet again, the tactics he uses to regain his freedom are nothing short of staggering in terms of sheer gall and creativity. As many times as Russell manages to escape incarceration in order to be with his one true love, however, he always seems to end up back behind bars.
In exploiting the more preposterous aspects of Steve Russell’s incredible career as a con man, I Love You Phillip Morris director/screenwriters John Requa and Glenn Ficarra have created the perfect cinematic vehicle to showcase the diverse talents of comedy icon Carrey, whose flair for drama has been gradually catching up with his killer comic timing ever since he stunned audiences into silence in The Cable Guy back in 1996. Carrey’s portrayal of Russell sits so comfortably alongside his previous roles in films like Me, Myself & Irene, Liar Liar, and Fun with Dick and Jane that if it weren’t for the fact that the screenplay was based on author Steve McVicker’s true-crime tome of the same name, odds are moviegoers wouldn’t even blink if Requa and Ficarra’s names were secretly replaced by Peter and Bobby Farrelly in the opening credits. Much like the writers who collaborated with Carrey on some of the actor’s biggest films, Requa and Ficarra seem more interested in milking the concept for comedy rather than attempting anything serious or thoughtful with the material (a brief attempt to expose the root causes of Russell’s criminal behavior is quickly sidelined for a throwaway gag, and his continual betrayal of Morris is largely played for laughs), but when dealing with a subject like Russell, absurdity just seems to come naturally. Still, Carrey handles the dramatic beats in I Love You Phillip Morris with enough conviction to hold his own opposite McGregor, who is captivating in his role as the timid inmate who quickly falls for Russell’s disarming charisma. The talented Mann disappears far too quickly after Russell embraces his new lifestyle, and Rodrigo Santoro lends the film its greatest amount of dramatic weight in his role as Russell’s former lover Jimmy.
The whole endeavor is held together by Nick Urata’s effervescent score. A key member of the Denver, Colorado-based outfit DeVotchKa (who first gained widespread recognition for their contributions to the Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack), Urata displays an intuitive understanding of the art of film composition by giving I Love You Phillip Morris a distinctive signature hook that vividly encapsulates the protagonist’s whimsical true nature, and strikes the perfect tone for a lighthearted film that flirts with heavy drama. Much like Steve Russell at that crucial crossroads that nudged him into a life of crime, I Love You Phillip Morris never feels like it really knows what it wants to be. But it’s Russell’s talent for BS and Carrey’s ability to humanize him that holds us riveted, even after it becomes apparent that the filmmakers aren’t interested in much more than playing his life story for laughs.
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