Mainstream American comedies don’t come much blacker than Bad Santa, a chunk of congealed eggnog so gleefully nasty that some refused to believe it could have been written by its credited screenwriters, John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, whose only previous credit was the inane Cats & Dogs. But five minutes into Requa and Ficarra’s directorial debut, I Love You Phillip Morris, it’s abundantly clear that these two gentlemen need no assistance to mine incredulous laughs from outré situations—they’re plenty twisted enough all by their joint lonesome.
Based on the actual exploits of con artist Steven Jay Russell, whose numerous scams, impersonations and escapes make Catch Me If You Can’s Frank Abagnale look like a rank amateur, the film stars Jim Carrey as Russell and Ewan McGregor as Phillip Morris (no relation to the tobacco company), the love of Russell’s life, whom he meets in prison and on whose behalf he gets into multiple ludicrous scrapes. With commendable ambition, Requa and Ficarra strive to make Phillip Morris at once a caustic farce and a sincere gay romance. If it mostly fails on the latter score, that’s because Carrey seems constitutionally incapable of evincing real affection for anybody other than himself. As a comedy, however, the movie is almost South Park fearless, especially given the timidly patronizing way that Hollywood continues to treat homosexuality. Are you prepared for an American film in which Ewan McGregor clambers off of Jim Carrey and visibly spits rather than swallows? That’s but a hint of this movie’s outrageousness.