In the 90’s, Jim Carrey established himself as a mainstream comedic actor with films like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Liar Liar. In recent years, he hasn’t often displayed the comic persona that made him a household name. However, that persona appears once again in the new film I Love You Phillip Morris.
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In the story, Carrey plays officer Steven Russell. Russell joined the police force to locate his birth mother but when he eventually finds her, she quickly rejects him. Soon enough, Russell quits the force and starts a new life with his wife and children. Everything changes once again when Russell is involved in a severe car accident. While recovering, Russell admits that he’s gay and begins a new life as a gay con man because, as he notes, “being gay is really expensive.”
Russell’s ex-wife (Leslie Mann), who is surprised by Russell’s new lifestyle, is portrayed as the typical “Hollywood” Christian. Once she discovers that her ex-husband has become a thief, she asks if his homosexuality has anything to do with his tendency to steal. That isn’t the first or the last time that the movie pokes fun at her religious values.
After getting caught breaking the law, Russell is sent to prison. When a new inmate arrives, Russell talks openly about the sexual acts that inmates must perform to get what they want. Eventually, Russell befriends fellow inmate Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), a naïve young prisoner who is afraid to walk out into the prison yard. Because they live in separate buildings, Russell and Morris write love letters to each other. When Russell moves into Morris’s cell, the two begin a romantic relationship until Russell is transferred to another prison.
After the couple are eventually released from their respective jails, they move in together. Russell starts working at a large corporation. Through some shrewd financial decisions, he finds a way to make millions of dollars in additional profit for his company and decides to steal some of it. As the story continues, Russell returns to being a con man while Morris enjoys the benefits of a luxurious lifestyle.
Carrey does an excellent job in his lead role, especially with the story’s physical comedy. Carrey is wacky, wild, and wonderfully charismatic. He presents Russell as an intelligent and shrewd con artist who can convince people to do whatever he thinks they should.
Unfortunately, Ewan McGregor isn’t given much to do with his supporting role as Russell’s often-neglected boyfriend. Morris is a blatantly one-note character who doesn’t realize how untrustworthy Russell is. Even when Russell blatantly lies, Morris doesn’t ask a lot of questions. He just goes along with it. When Russell tells Morris that he received a Christmas bonus in the middle of the summer, Morris accepts it as truth, and the same goes for everything else Russell says.
In addition to story’s lame gay jokes, the comedy of I Love You Phillip Morris relies on a sense of meanness. For instance, after they become cellmates, Russell hires someone to beat up a “screamer” who keeps Morris and other prisoners up all night. When Morris finds out about it, he tells Russell how romantic a gesture it was to hire someone to bash another person’s face in. Later on, the film takes aim at the state of Texas and its former Governor, George W. Bush.
Although Jim Carrey is great in the lead role, I Love You Phillip Morris is too mean-spirited and some of its characters are too one-dimensional for this film to be worth anyone’s time. It’s hard to like Phillip Morris.