Saturday, March 5, 2011

I Love You Phillip Morris (Rhoades)

Audiences Call For “Phillip Morris”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Talk about product placement. No movie has been so blatant about it since a dog adventure titled “Because of Winn-Dixie.”

That said, “I Love You Phillip Morris” – a dramedy that’s now showing at the Tropic Cinema – has the right to call itself anything it likes. And as it turns out, the title has nothing to do with cigarette brands.

In it, Phillip Morris is the name of a cellmate of incarcerated conman Steven Jay Russell. A former deputy sheriff, the real-life Russell committed a number of frauds, such as passing himself off as a food service executive and as the CFO of a medical management company. Eventually, he gets sent to prison for lewd acts at a local park. In jail he meets the aforementioned Phillip Morris and falls for him. After Morris is released, Russell breaks out of prison four separate times to be with him. That’s how Russell gains the nickname of “Houdini” and “King Con.”

Using as many as 14 aliases, Russell passed himself off as a judge, a lawyer, a doctor, and a handyman, among many other disguises. While posing as a judge, he ordered his own bond be lowered. He even faked having Aids to aid his cause.

Playing the conman in this semi-serious film is funnyman Jim Carrey. And Ewan McGregor is the object of his affections, the aforesaid Phillip Morris.

“I do like to push the envelope here and there,” admits Carrey. He’s not talking about wacky roles like “Dumb and Dumber” or animated roles like “A Christmas Carol” or even his dramatic Andy Kaufman impersonation for “Man on the Moon.” He’s speaking about “I Love You Phillip Morris.”

Given its controversial gay theme, the film had trouble finding a U.S. distributor. Carrey’s advisors didn’t want him to take on this assignment, but he knew it was a part he had to do. “Why else do we live?” he muses. “Except to do something that people haven’t seen before in a film and to push the boundary a little bit? So when it snaps back it doesn’t snap back quite so far.”

Ewan McGregor’s greatest concern was that he didn’t want to look like a “straight guy playing gay.” Kissing Jim Carrey didn’t bother him. “It’s just not an issue. As an actor you’re stepping into the shoes of people in life and people in life are gay or straight or both or whatever.”
As for real-life prison escape artist Steven Russell, he’s now tucked away in solitary confinement in a Texas prison, on lock-down 23 hours a day.
Meanwhile, the titular Phillip Morris lives a quiet life in Arkansas. He consulted on the movie, which is based on a book by former Houston Chronicle reporter Steve McVicker.
As for that same-named cigarette, the tobacco company spells its brand with only one L.
[from Solares Hill]

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