In “I Love You Phillip Morris,” Jim Carrey gets to show off the best of what he can do, both the physical comedy he made his name on and the unexpected tenderness that has crept into his later, more dramatic work. He uses that whole range to play a gay con man driven by love, giving a consistently charming, breezy performance in a film that frequently feels inconsistent in tone.
The directing debut of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who wrote the awesomely inappropriate “Bad Santa,” veers a bit jarringly between its humorous, serious and romantic moments. But Carrey, as real-life scam artist Steven Russell, is never short of fascinating to watch. The story is so incredible, you’re constantly wondering what outlandish scheme he’ll perpetrate next. (A quick intro to the film assures us: “This really happened. It really did.”)
Ficarra and Requa’s script, based on the book by former Houston Chronicle investigative reporter Steven McVicker, follows Steven Russell’s many creative efforts to procure money, then break out of jail each time he’s caught. During one of his stints behind bars, he meets the true love of his life: a sweet, soft-spoken pretty boy named Phillip Morris, whom Ewan McGregor plays with great delicacy and heart.
Carrey and McGregor are awfully cute together, and one of the great strengths of “I Love You Phillip Morris” is the matter-of-fact way it handles their relationship; it’s never precious or mawkish, and frequently the humor between them is quite raunchy.