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Originally published Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 3:02 PM

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Movie review

'I Love You Phillip Morris': But I'm lukewarm on the movie

A review of the based-on-a-true-love-story film, "I Love You Phillip Morris." It stars Ewan McGregor and Jim Carrey — who don't quite convincingly portray imprisoned lovers.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2 stars

'I Love You Phillip Morris,' with Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro. Written and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. 98 minutes. Rated R for sexual content including strong dialogue and language. Egyptian.

Like "All Good Things," also opening this week, "I Love You Phillip Morris" is based on a true story that's rather more intriguing than the movie itself. Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) was a Texas police officer and church organist before suddenly realizing that he was gay. Quicker than this movie's constant voice-over can speak, he's living it up in Florida, spending too much money, transforming himself into a con man and winding up in a state penitentiary — where he falls instantly in love with a soft-spoken fellow inmate (Ewan McGregor).

All of this happens early in the movie; the rest is Steven's elaborate (and frequently successful, at least for a while) plans for jailbreaks, more cons — including one so impressive it certainly had me fooled — and a constant attempt to build a life with Phillip. It's a fascinating story, but filmmakers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa ("Bad Santa") create a wildly uneven tone: It's satire, but not quite funny enough; a love story, but not quite sincere enough.

The movie has moments of real sweetness, like Steven and Phillip dancing together in their cell as a fellow inmate plays romantic music. Carrey's performance, though, is problematic; he throws himself into the role with vigor, and the result is something that would have to be shrunk down to be larger-than-life. (No one smiles bigger than Carrey on screen; it's often unnerving.) He's a hugely showy, self-conscious performer, and that almost works here for a self- conscious, ever-performing character, but it also serves to distance us from Steven — and to make us wonder exactly what the angelic Phillip sees in him.

True-life stories that don't make sense can be fascinating — life often doesn't make any sense whatsoever — but "I Love You Phillip Morris," trying hard, never quite sells it.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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