"I Love You Phillip Morris"

By Simon Gallagher

No, this is not a movie about a man’s addiction to cigarettes, but rather one man’s (Jim Carrey) unending love for another man (Ewan McGregor), although he’s definitely someone who should come with a big warning label.

This comedy-drama is based on a true story and, like some true stories, it is not only stranger than fiction, but also less believable. Yet it actually happened.

Steven Russell was a police officer in Georgia, an organist at a conservative church and, according to his wife, “a devoted Christian family man.” In addition, he was gay and deeply closeted until a near-fatal car accident convinced him he should be true to himself. The problem is that he was also a consummate conartist whose insurance fraud landed him in prison.

On his second interment he met sweet, soft-spoken Phillip Morris (two L’s, not one like the mammoth cigarette company), and true love blossomed behind prison bars. Hell bent to be together with Phillip, Russell broke out of jail four times, one time imitating a judge commuting his own sentence and another time faking his death from AIDS. He becomes famous as the “Houdini of jail breaks.”

He also became famous for pulling off a series of frauds involving hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is what caused him to keep landing back in prison and to keep coming up with audacious ways to break out.

The last time he was arrested, in 1998, it was in Fort Lauderdale as he walked to his car.

Jim Carrey plays Russell and is certainly capable of giving a great performance, as he proved in “The Truman Show” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” but here he’s allowed to be outrageous to the point of being obnoxious, so it’s hard to believe he could fool so many people into believing he was a lawyer, doctor, FBI agent and CFO of a health care company.

Ewan McGregor, Obi-Wan Kanobi from the last three “Star Wars” films, gives the best performance as Phillip. Any actor will tell you that one of the hardest things to play is a sweet and soft-spoken soul while keeping him interesting, but McGregor does just that and offers a nice contrast to the manic Carrey.

Rodrigo Santoro, the heartthrob from Brazil who gained international attention in “300” and “Love Actually,” plays Carrey’s first partner. Several scenes in the movie take place in Florida.

Written and directed by the two men responsible for “Bad Santa,” this often funny film has a hard time finding the right tone for its incredible story. They want us to cheer this fool-for-love, but can’t skim over the fact that he took advantage of so many people, including the love-ofhis- life, Phillip Morris.

The irony in being a con man is that you end up conning yourself more than anyone else, a fact that must now be inescapable to the ever-escaping Steven Russell.

The film is 98-minutes long, rated R, and opens Christmas day.

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