January 22, 2011

MOVIES: I Love You Phillip Morris (Glenn Ficarra & John Requa, 2010)

What an odd movie this is, an attempt to combine madcap comedy and poignant romance; each half of the movie has moments that work, but the two halves never mesh into a convincing whole. Jim Carrey stars as Steven Russell, a con man who falls in love in prison with Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), then spends years trying to balance his compulsion to steal with his desire to settle down in a contented life with Phillip.

Carrey, unsurprisingly, does better with the broad comic moments, and McGregor is at his best with the emotional moments; since McGregor is asked to be funny less frequently than Carrey is asked to be moving, McGregor's comes off as the more consistent performance. And a lovely one it is, too; whether Phillip is caught up in the throes of first love, horrified at Steven's latest arrest, or shattered by betrayal, you see every emotion on McGregor's face. He plays the role with the simple, pure vulnerability of an abandoned puppy.

Carrey can't quite make the love story half of the movie work; he can't wipe the wide-mouthed smirk off his face for long enough to convince you that he's ever sincere. The con-man stuff, though, he does very well; he's especially funny explaining what may be the most elaborate fake-your-own-death scene ever concocted.

It's not an entirely satisfying movie, but there are enough strong moments to recommend it, most of them in McGregor's performance.

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