Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro, Antoni Corone, Brennan Brown, Michael Mandel, Annie Golden, Marylouise Burke, David Jensen, Dameon Clarke, Clay Chamberlin, Louis Herthum, Morgana Shaw, Joe Chrest
Written by: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, based on a book by Steven McVicker
Directed by: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content including strong dialogue, and language
Running Time: 102
Date: 01/18/2009

I Love You Phillip Morris (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Off Again, Con Again

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The screenwriters Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Cats & Dogs, Bad Santa, Bad News Bears) make their directorial debut with this twisty comedy-drama, which -- if nothing else -- restores Jim Carrey to a semblance of his former glory.

Carrey stars as Steven Russell, a real-life con man who starts out life as an orphan. He goes to church, works as a cop, marries Debbie (Leslie Mann), and has some kids. The fact that he's gay doesn't make a difference. He gets a little man action on the side from time to time, until a car accident re-organizes his priorities. He begins to live an openly gay life, but can't give up lying. He resorts to conning and fraud to make enough money for his new lifestyle. ("Nobody talks about this," he says, "but being gay is expensive.")

All this happens in the film's first 20 minutes. In prison, he meets the sweet, soft-spoken Phillip Morris of the title (played by Ewan McGregor) and vows that they'll be together, no matter what. Unfortunately, Phillip thinks Steven is a lawyer, and the lies just keep spiraling from there. Steven, who narrates, seems to be able to comprehend his behavior, but can't stop it, and after a horrendous mistake, he dedicates himself and all his skills to winning Phillip back for good. At the film's coda, we get the "where are they now" title cards, with a not-so-subtle stab at that classic bully, George W. Bush.

Ficarra and Requa turn in a fairly brisk film, and they manage to balance the comedy and the melodrama quite nicely; it helps that they have a slight mean streak that keeps the concoction from getting too sweet. In one scene, the lovers watch a classic romantic movie on television in a prison common room. They cuddle together, and the camera tracks sideways to reveal another male convict, furiously masturbating at the female star on the screen. The filmmakers spend perhaps too much time being tricky, beginning the film at the three-quarters point and ending by revealing a particularly sticky con. The cons can be lots of fun, and Carrey dives into them with infectious energy, but they more or less clash with the movie's relationship.

Phillip is such a sweet soul that he doesn't seem like he can even keep up with the rest of the events. As a result, McGregor barely has anything to do. But he at least shares some strong chemistry with Carrey; the two actors jump into this relationship without the slightest hesitation or shyness. And perhaps the still, soft McGregor is partly responsible for centering Carrey and providing him with his most human and unguarded moments; this is Carrey's finest performance in over a decade, excepting Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Lionsgate's Blu-Ray release comes with an entertaining commentary track with the co-directors and some producers and crew-members. It also has a making-of featurette, deleted scenes, and trailers.

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