Sunday, December 5, 2010

Movie with Abe: I Love You Phillip Morris

I Love You Phillip Morris
Directed by Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
Released December 3, 2010

After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival nearly two years ago in January 2009, this film is finally coming out in theatres. A long-delayed project is rarely a good sign, though fortunately it’s not as bad an omen in this case as some other ill-fated, long-in-the-can projects that have somehow seen the light of day. “I Love You Phillip Morris” can best be described as an eccentric, energetic story that lives and breathes through its main character, who as the title somewhat confusingly indicates, is not Phillip Morris. Instead, it’s Steven Russell, played by flamboyant funnyman Jim Carrey.

Like any Jim Carrey film, it’s pretty much his show. Think of Russell, a real-life con man, as a much wilder version of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Frank Abagnale Jr. from “Catch Me If You Can” whose flair for dramatics and expensive accessories is the thing that most often gets him into trouble. Carrey delivers a hybrid of his elastic hyperactivity from “Liar Liar” and his more tempered, fiercely controlled performances in light dramas like “The Truman Show” and “Man on the Moon.” Steven Russell is an immensely memorable, uniquely slippery and charming character, and Carrey is the perfect choice to play him, adding yet another unforgettable individual to his repertoire.

Carrey may be the star, but of course Phillip Morris does play a part. In that role is Ewan McGregor, who anchored “The Ghost Writer” earlier its year but was by no means its strongest player (he wasn’t supposed to be). Here, he displays a magnificent camaraderie with and affection for the man with eyes for only him whom he meets in prison. Their believable chemistry is one of the strongest elements of “I Love You Phillip Morris,” an otherwise fairly unbelievable film that’s so outlandish that the opening titles forcefully insist that its events actually occurred rather than simply scrawl “based on a true story.”

Its status as fact rather than fiction doesn’t get the film completely off the hook for some of its less than credible stunts. The film consistently feels like it’s floating above reality (the omnipresence of clouds in the opening credits aids that feel), and it’s only possibly to be fed so much wild entertainment before it begins to diminish in quality. The close focus on Steven and Phillip also diminishes considerably from its overall effect since everyone else seems hapless and hopeless to recognize the actions of and outsmart Steven. Even if it’s an unfulfilling experience, it’s indisputably an entertaining ride.


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