With Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro, Antoni Corone. Directed by Glenn Ficarra & John Requa. Rated R for sexual content including strong dialogue and language. 102 minutes.
The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” last month was a sign of how much American society has changed. The end of the gay ban in our military – with the majority of Americans supporting repeal – demonstrates a growing acceptance of gays and lesbians as our neighbors, friends and family. Indeed, last summer’s arthouse hit, “The Kids Are All Right,” featured Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as a long-term lesbian couple, and the fact that they were a lesbian couple wasn’t the point of the film.
All this is a way of providing context for I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS, a film so misconceived it’s not even clear what audience is being targeted. Jim Carrey stars as Steven Russell, a married, church-going Texas cop who is secretly gay. After being in a car accident, he decides he has but one life to live, so he leaves his wife and moves to Florida where he can openly live with his new boyfriend, Jimmy (Rodrigo Santoro). However, as depicted here, the gay lifestyle is all fancy clothes and high living and Russell turns to crime to support himself.
He ends up in prison, meets Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), a delicate and soft-spoken inmate, and falls in love. The remainder of the film focuses on Russell’s scams in getting himself and Morris out of prison, so they can live in romantic bliss together. It works… for a while.
The problems begin with the fact that this was written and directed by the team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who wrote the hilarious “Bad Santa,” but also the misbegotten remake of “The Bad News Bears” and the silly “Cats and Dogs.” They are not known for subtlety, and their sledgehammer approach is precisely wrong here. Instead of focusing on the irony of Russell’s transformation from straight-arrow cop to gay con man, we get what amounts to a minstrel show of gay stereotypes.
Carrey, not exactly known for his understated performances, minces around and carries on like he’s auditioning for the part of Roger DeBris in a revival of “The Producers.” McGregor goes in the other direction, playing the shrinking violet. One has to go back to the deservedly forgotten 1969 film, “Staircase,” which starred Rex Harrison and Richard Burton as gay hairdressers, to find actors camping it up this badly.
It’s not surprising that this film has been kicking around for two years, since its premiere at Sundance back in 2009. Apparently, its series of distributors couldn’t figure out how to market it, for in the end it’s not clear if we’re supposed to admire the lovers, laugh at their antics, or see this as a romantic tragedy. One suspects that Ficarra and Requa hoped to elicit all three reactions, but because Carrey and McGregor present us with such cartoonish stereotypes, it’s impossible to take them seriously as real people. “I Love You Phillip Morris” is a complete misfire.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.