Don’t let the lure of Jim Carry and Ewan McGregor entice you into the theater, because this unbelievable-but-true black comedy has woefully little to recommend it. When we’re introduced to Steven Jay Russell (Carrey), he’s a devoutly religious, seemingly happy, small-town Georgia police officer with a lovely wife (Leslie Mann) and family. But then there’s an automobile accident from which he awakens, proclaiming to paramedics that he’s gay. Fleeing to Florida, he takes up with an expensive-to-maintain South Beach pretty-boy (Rodrigo Santoro). Desperate for cash, he turns to insurance fraud and winds up in a Texas penitentiary, where he meets a sweetly sensitive Southerner, Phillip Morris (McGregor), incarcerated for grand theft auto. A facile con man, Steven moves into Phillip’s cell, where they romantically slow-dance to Johnny Mathis’ singing “Chances Are.” Determined to build a life together after they’re released, Steven impersonates a defense attorney and, eventually, through a tangled web of deception, wangles a CFO position at a medical management firm. Unable to stop himself, he embezzles millions which, once again, lands him back in the slammer, where he methodically starves himself to convince doctors that he’s a dying of AIDS.
Predictably, it’s just another morbid canard. Deducing from the clunky cellphones, it was shot several years ago but, according to McGregor, its release was delayed from 2009 because “Disney bosses didn’t want young film fans thinking their Ebenezer Scrooge in ‘A Christmas Carol’ was a bender.”
Based on the novel by investigative Houston reporter Steve McVicker, it’s been poorly
adapted and erratically co-directed by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (“Bad Santa”), who wallow in silly, lurid stereotypes and stale clichés, revealing remarkably little about genuine gay affection. Even Carrey’s narcissistic clowning is so callow that it’s hard to work up much empathy, particularly when he’s sashaying in fishnets. In contrast, McGregor’s slyly low-key delivery achieves remarkable depth.
So on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “I Love You, Phillip Morris” is a smirking, awkwardly insincere 2, revolving around the shocking scams of a bizarre sociopath.