Jim Carrey is hogging all the praise for “I Love You Phillip Morris,” a crazy-in-love caper that places him in the light loafers of Steven Jay Russell, the real-life churchgoer-turned-conman who’s currently serving a 144-year prison sentence. Wearing both his screwball hat and his thinking-thespian cap, the rubbery Carrey is plenty good — earnest and outrageous. But the love should really be poured on Phillip Morris himself, Ewan McGregor. Rarely has a sparkly gay stereotype been played with such a sincere balance of flair and winsomeness. As Russell’s cellmate and lover, McGregor outshines Carrey and gives the film a soul.
What else is there to love? “Phillip Morris” is one of the year’s better romantic comedies, handily charming you with its campy hysteria and sweet-natured core. The combination of its wanton boundary-pushing and its cuddly buffer against total tastelessness make it one of the best John Waters movies John Waters never made. Following Russell from scam to jailbreak and back again as he attempts to fund his lavish lifestyle and relationship with Morris, it’s also an accessorized and fabulized spin on “Catch Me If You Can.”
Unfortunately, nobody finds Russell’s incredible antics more incredible than filmmakers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, a gifted but overindulgent pair. Working from their own adaptation of Steve McVicker’s book, Ficarra and Requa (who also co-penned “Bad Santa”) keep the pace chugging in the first half, but then start stacking up the many crimes like identical pancakes. What begins as amazing and amusing becomes excessive and redundant.
It’s interesting, then, that the long-delayed final cut of “Phillip Morris” is the result of multiple re-edits, following distributor griping about its abundant gay sex scenes. Ficarra and Requa may have whittled down the naughty bits, but they haven’t trimmed the fat.
Crime shouldn’t pay, but wild movies about wily career criminals should keep you invested to the end. Soon enough, this one just keeps you.
I Love You Phillip Morris
Two-and-a-half reels out of four
Opens tomorrow at the Ritz at the Bourse
In the year’s most overwhelmingly pleasant surprise, Ben Affleck pulls a major coup as the director, co-writer and star of “The Town,” an extraordinary ensemble crime drama that reaches near-Scorsese heights.
Co-starring the very talented likes of Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall and Jon Hamm, it’s a film that never disappoints, no matter how much you expect it to. SPR