Steven Russell plays organ in his local church, prays every night with his loving wife and has an upstanding job on the county police force. All in all a straight-and-narrow kind of guy.
A bit too straight it turns out and when he is involved in a car crash he has an epiphany – he’s homosexual and he’s going to live life to the full.
But as Russell (Jim Carrey) exclaims – “being gay is expensive!” In order to fund this lavish lifestyle he turns to crime and it’s not long before he ends up in jail.
Here he meets true love Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor) whom he fights to protect from tough prison life. Via a number of unlikely escapes and recaptures (all true the opening lines assure us) the pair fight for freedom and each other.
Carrey brings all his elastic physical humor to the role in both the comical kookiness of Russell’s straight life and the camped-up life of crime. Few others can play characters that are both funny and deep – Russell certainly has a dark edge.
McGregor has a brilliant turn as the delicate apple of Steven’s eye. He wears his heart on his sleeve and it’s just a matter of time before it’s broken (again and again) by his lover.
There is a Catch Me If You Can quality to Steven’s con-man antics but without the cat-and-mouse tension. The romantic moments of the movie are endearing but it’s never long before a coarse gag is kicked in and we’re back with sociopathic Steven’s rollercoaster existence.
Russell seems incapable of avoiding crime and takes every opportunity to commit fraud. You can’t help but wonder if it was all for love or just because he’s slightly unstable.
So is I Love You Phillip Morris a rom-com, crime caper or dark tragedy? Like Russell at the beginning of the movie, it doesn’t quite know what it is – which is perhaps why it struggled to find a distributor.
There’s plenty of humour but too much of it relies on the fact the protagonist is gay. Like one of Russell’s one-night stands it’s an enjoyable romp that flashes by too fast to invoke emotion.