Jim Carrey began his career by making the whole world laugh and then, like most comics, he decided he wanted to be more than just a beloved buffoon. He's taken real chances in his choice of roles, and although most of them haven't paid off either commercially ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") or artistically ("The Majestic"), he deserves credit for not merely pushing the envelope but puncturing it.
All this is by way of saying that "I Love You Phillip Morris" is a movie that may flummox even fans of "The Cable Guy."
As yet another in a seemingly endless series of based-on-a-true-story movies, "Phillip Morris" becomes increasingly unbelievable the longer it plays out. Carrey plays Steven Russell, who finds out as a boy that he's been adopted, grows up to be a Georgia policeman, has two kids and a lovely wife (Leslie Mann), sings in church, and all the while, it turns out, is gay.
Following his rejection by the birth mother he's tracked down, Steven decides to ditch his own family and triumphantly live his life as a gay man. Living la vida loca in South Beach, he discovers that "being gay is really expensive" and goes on a spree of financial fraudulence that eventually lands him in prison, where he hooks up with blond cellmate Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor, doing his best to alienate his "Star Wars" fans).
These two are googly-eyed soul mates, which doesn't prevent Steven from capsizing their relationship, such as it is, at every opportunity. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who co-wrote and directed, were responsible for the very funny "Bad Santa," which was attacked for attacking the Santa Claus myth. (Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and he was played by Billy Bob Thornton.) In "Phillip Morris," their trademark off-center black comedy too often misses the mark.
The movie, at its best, is compellingly odd, which is also the most accurate description of Carrey's performance. Just as the filmmakers slip in and out of boffo laughs (broad prison humor) and tragedy (AIDS), Carrey, with his rubbery gyrations and split-second facial changeovers, can turn his performance around on a dime. He's the perfect actor for this piece, which, for better and worse, resembles a cross between "The Green Mile" and "Catch Me If You Can." Grade: C+ (Rated R for sexual content, including strong dialogue, and language.)
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