Saturday, March 5, 2011

I Love You Phillip Morris (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
I Love You Philip Morris

"I Love You Philip Morris" is the cinematic hybrid of "Ace Ventura" and "Inside Job". The film details the true story of Steven Russell, nicknamed "King Con" and "Houdini".

When Steven was a boy, according to the film he knew he was gay by noticing clouds as penises. Despite these natural urges, he ignores them as he is a child of the repressive  1950s.
He learns he is adopted and becomes a conservative Christian. He marries a blond beauty queen and works at Sysco foodservice. The American Dream. When night falls, he becomes a wildman on the hunt for men. Carrey is a bit like Ace Ventura here: the thrust-forward chest, the cocked head, the wild eyes. His Steven Russell leads a double life. When he gets in a car wreck, it is a sexualized slapstick moment of auto erotic catharsis. With his jet black hair and florid clothes, Russell loves himself just as much as his sports car. He tells his wife (Leslie Mann) that he is gay. Russell leaves domesticity and begins a crime spree that echoes "The Birdcage" along with "Catch Me If You Can", but is more enjoyable than either film because of the  sheer breakneck speed.

He starts credit card scams and insurance fraud. Russell is one slippery snake. At each turn and slip the temptation might seem great for Carrey to go into his plasticine-faced, spastic-limbed wild rants as with his previous roles, but Carrey has the strong sense to restrain his Id, ultimately making his character more believable and more outrageous in his human qualities. Con-artist Russell, like Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter shows us the human being behind the maniac. Rather than just displaying his theatrical amorality, Carrey delivers a genuine pathos behind the compulsion of this ne'er do well. And there were plenty of moments which could have been rife with ridiculous faces, but this is not one of those times.

Russell becomes a fake accident victim collecting on health insurance and benefits. He goes to prison. There he meets his soulmate: the soft-spoken and taciturn Phillip Morris (Ewan Mcgregor). The two become the valentines of the prison set. Once released, shrewd Russell fakes resumes and references with his serpent smooth voices and becomes a financial director at a bank. He embezzles thousands.

He goes back and forth to prison and puts himself into a diabetic coma. But perhaps his most daring escape is faking his death from AIDS. Russell studied the symptoms and knew exactly what to eat or what not to eat, to make himself ill.

Like Lon Chaney, "The Man of A Thousand Faces", Carrey pushes and keeps pushing the envelope, delving much deeper than Leonardo Dicaprio in depicting the flat conformity of American commerce and culture.

Russell gets thrown into prison at last for 144 years, in real life, but not before he channels Jim Carrey, who unleashes  almost elegant lunacy in his fits of spasms and subtlety. Within each of his quiet Joker stares ala Heath Ledger, Carrey seems to ask the question, "how much of me can you take?" 

Instead of answering, we smile, transfixed and keep watching.

The real Steven Russell is now in prison, the film relates, with only a one hour recess.

And Carrey is alive too, staring us down. 

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