Saturday, 27 March 2010

I Love You Phillip Morris

Jim Carrey has had a curious, dual-stranded career. On the one hand, a rubber-faced clown who brings in hefty returns on fluff like Ace Ventura and Liar, Liar, when he puts his mind to it, his low key passivity in flicks like Eternal Sunshine is often far more engaging than his financially successful prat-falling. Perhaps it's the pleasure in seeing his overbearing, comic side being repressed and moulded into a proper performance.

Either way, I Love You Phillip Morris is an oddity in that it straddles both aspects of the actor's filmmaking, alternately dark and light yet never confident enough to reconcile the two. And it's not the only one doing some straddling: Carrey is admirably brave to take on the part of closet homosexual Steven Russell who, post-car crash, reassesses his cosy family life married to Debbie (Leslie Mann), decides to give it all up, and becomes a con-man.

Seeing as that little salvo takes up most of the film’s trailer, it’s clearly a more chaotic work than it may appear. On the inside, Russell comes across timid Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor) with whom he instantly falls in love, forcing Russell to ever more extreme ends to secure both his freedom and everlasting happiness.

There’s certainly brio and verve, in a bright Little Miss Sunshine-type fashion, with Carrey jumping from one set-piece to the next in the nature of our very favourite pet detective. The sight of a hair-slicked, perma-tanned Carrey and refreshingly likeable McGregor (his best work for a while) serenading in a prison cell is symptomatic of the film’s vaguely edgy yet sweet nature – a film that struggles to find it’s feet tonally.

In the end, it’s a movie as muddled as its anti-hero: a guy who flits from misdemeanour to man at will finds a film that is little more than a series of set-pieces reminding us, disappointingly, of Carrey’s broad comic mugging. It also tells us next to nothing about the nature of sexuality beyond a few effete hand movements and accents.

There are, though, briefest flashes of Truman Burbank-style desperation lurking behind the eyes of Carrey’s fickle conman that keeps a viewer engaged, even if the climactic bait and switch seems to say we should never have bothered to entertain the thought. It’s a shame as the premise indicated something darker, more career-defying; in the end, it’s best described as Catch Me If You Camp.

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