Review: I Love You Phillip Morris


Directed by: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Written by:Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Starring: Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro, Louis Herthum, Griff Furst
Released: July 14, 2011
Grade: C+

A film that still receives a lot of airtime is Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can.  It has aged well.  If you haven’t had the chance to see it, please add it to your bucket list.  It tells the true story of Frank Abagnale Jr, a compulsive con-artist (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) who used his charm to manipulate almost anyone.  He masqueraded as a pilot, a lecturer, a doctor and even a lawyer.

The movie could easily have been a serious drama but Spielberg chose a different tact and wove it into a light-hearted comedy.  It was as if he was doing his own subtle “con” of the audience.  He stole millions of dollars and countless lives at risk and yet, somehow, the film makes us like Frank Abagnale Jr.  We laugh at his crazy escapades and we smile as he continually evades the authorities.

I’m describing I Love You Phillip Morris as an inferior version of Catch Me If You Can.  It’s trying to tell a similar story in a similar vein but it just doesn’t work.  First and foremost, Jim Carrey is hard to take seriously in the leading role.  He has a silly look and accent that doesn’t fit the role.  It’s hard to believe that someone so goofy could have pulled all this off.

He plays Steven Russell (Carrey), a public menace with no moral fibre.  To help pay for his swanky lifestyle, he would deliberately involve himself in accidents and claim compensation through his insurance company.  He fell down an escalator in a shopping centre.  He slipped on some liquid in a supermarket.

The authorities finally caught on to his schemes and he was sentenced to a short term in prison.  Did he learn his lesson?  Nope.  On being released, Russell picked up where he left off.  He posed as a Chief Financial Officer for a major corporation and stole large sums of money by fudging the books.  The guy was a compulsive liar and pathological imposter.

If you’re wondering who the Phillip Morris is in this story, it has nothing to do with the cigarette company (many people asked this question when I told them about the film).  It turns out Phillip Morris (played by Ewan McGregor) was the love of Russell’s life.  The two met in prison and part of Russell’s motivation to cheat and steal was so that he could provide a wealthy life for them both.

Even if you can overlook Jim Carrey’s limitations, I still don’t think there’s much to like about I Love You Phillip Morris.  The film score and soundtrack is distracting and the continual narration (provided by Carrey) is unnecessary.  None of the supporting cast stand out and Ewan McGregor is wasted in weak role.

It’s taken almost two a half years for this film to reach Australian cinemas (it premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2009) and having now seen it, I’m surprised it didn’t go straight to video.