Gutsy, zippy and exuberantly gay, “I Love You Phillip Morris” is not without its pleasures as it defies conventional dictates regarding what a prison film and a big-star gay romance should be.
But this serio-madcap chronicle of the outrageous crimes of an upright cop turned pathological swindler and love-struck jailbird proves uneven as a comedy and, beneath its lusty surfaces, lukewarm romantically.
Writers and first-time directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who wrote “Bad Santa,” again deliver dark humor and norm-bucking scenarios with this colorfully energetic, but tonally messy, portrait of the real life of Steven Russell, based on a book by Steve McVicker.
Jim Carrey plays Steven, who, in the film’s earlier portions, learns that he is adopted, becomes a police officer and family man, is rejected by his birth mother (he makes off with her “welcome” mat, because “it’s a lie,” in one of the funniest scenes) and, after a car accident, announces he is gay and that he will no longer live a lie.
He then lies nonstop, committing crimes such as credit-card fraud to afford “living high on the gay hog.”
Steven lands in a Texas prison and finds love with fellow inmate Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), a sweet country boy.
Vowing to make Phillip happy, Steven repeatedly escapes from jail and pulls con jobs — posing as a lawyer and bluffing his way through a CFO position, for starters.
For a spell, the film glides on its enthusiasm and its busting of the notion that mainstream gay movies must be stereotypic in their respectability or tragedy.
Were there a statuette for gusto, Carrey would have a lock on it. The actor, in manic mode, gives a wholehearted, dynamic performance as the fast-talking trickster, bawdy rascal and persistent romantic.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers dish up so many antics and plot turns and such a mishmash of tones that the movie does not take hold in any of its intended forms and cannot transcend the level of admirable misfire.
As a raunchy comedy, it is hit and miss. As a portrait of a con man, it does not capture its protagonist’s desperation.
As a love story, it falls particularly short. A moving slow dance aside, the Steven-Phillip relationship does not feel meaningful. McGregor cannot make his thinly written character interesting, and the two actors, while cute together, are not convincing as a devoted couple.
The cast also includes Leslie Mann, wasted as Steven’s religious wife.
Starring Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann
Written and directed by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Running time 1 hour 38 minutes