Who’s In It: Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro, Brennan Brown, Clay Chamberlin, Michael Mandel
The Basics: Jim Carrey plays real-life criminal Steven Russell, a gregarious churchgoing small-town cop who decides one day to leave his wife and child behind to follow his bliss and instead live it up in Miami with his boyfriend (Rodrigo Santoro). But, as Russell deadpans in voice-over, living the flamboyant gay dream is expensive. So he turns to credit fraud to finance his new lifestyle, which eventually lands him in jail. That’s where Russell meets Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), his sweet-natured jailbird soul mate. In order to be with his lover, Russell spends the next few years flitting in and out of prison several more times using so many aliases, disguises, forgeries, and tricks that he becomes known as “The King of Cons.” How romantic!
What’s the Deal: Writer-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa tell the incredible true story of infamous con man Steven Russell with a lightly zany touch told from the perspective of Russell himself, a career criminal who in reality was eventually sentenced to life in prison and locked up in solitary confinement for his repeat offenses. That only makes this romance all the more bittersweet; Russell’s antics are admittedly a touch deranged and wholly, disturbingly obsessive, but framed as one man’s desperate attempts in the name of love, we find ourselves rooting for him against our better judgments. Ficarra and Requa pack a wealth of real-life hijinks into the span of 100 minutes, but their best work is in attempting to unearth the damaged man beneath the surface. Was Russell a product of his intellect, the fact that he was adopted, his closeted homosexuality, ‘80s excess – or, as the film quips, the easily manipulated infrastructure of the state of Texas?
I Hope You Like Your Jim Carrey In Large Doses: Because there’s a LOT of him in I Love You, Phillip Morris. The good news is, it’s not obnoxious and rubber-faced Jim Carrey but rather the more subtle madcap and charismatic Jim Carrey of late, who can charm his way into a job with faux credentials, manipulate everyone into buying his flimsy stories, manage to embezzle (and spend) millions, fool prison guards, and still make us shed tears while on his deathbed.
What Becomes a Bit Tiresome: Russell narrates his own story in selective order, revealing key character moments and revelations when he wants; yes, the con man is conning his own film audience. It works for the most part but also leads to a handful of false endings that inevitably keep going, and going, and going, until you find yourself wishing for some kind of definitive conclusion to come along and close the film for once and for all.
From the Guys Who Brought You: The script for Bad Santa, the subversive dark holiday comedy starring Billy Bob Thornton. (Ficarra and Requa also co-wrote Cats & Dogs and the Bad News Bears remake, but “the guys who brought you Bad Santa” sounds better.)