Camp Carrey in strange but true romance

Timothy Barber
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Cert: 18

Jim Carrey has never played it weirder than in this so-strange-it-must-be-true (and it is) story of a conman who became one of the most persistent escape artists in the American penal system, all for the love of another man.

Written and directed by the creators of 2003’s gloriously wicked Bad Santa, I Love You Phillip Morris is the story of Steven Russell, equal parts creep and charmer, who happens to have a talent for telling porkies that would put Bernie Madoff to shame. Ironically, it’s in giving up a lie – the pretence of being a God-fearing, happily-married dad – and deciding to be true to himself as an out-and-proud gay man in Miami, that Russell’s life spirals into criminality. Being gay, he discovers, is expensive – designer clothes, Rolex watches for his boyfriend, and a clutch of poodles won’t pay for themselves – so he becomes an expert at credit card theft and identity fraud.

Eventually arrested and jailed, he meets fellow inmate Phillip Morris, a blond ingénue played with controlled dignity by Ewan McGregor, and the pair fall deliriously in love. Once out, Russell is determined to provide for his partner, and cons his way into becoming the CFO of a company from which he then swindles a fortune. After being caught and returned to jail, he dedicates himself to repeatedly conning his way out – variously impersonating a judge, a builder and a doctor, among other extraordinary ruses – to deliver himself back to the love of his life.

Even though Carrey isn’t a stranger to more unusual fare, this is still daring territory for the rubber-faced comic. It’s a subversive, queasy film, full of dark, mischievous humour – not to mention some wild gay sex – with what’s almost a touching love story at its heart. But there’s a deadness behind the eyes of Carrey’s charmer that’s also there in the film itself – a cold insincerity that seems to linger in the background. However much fun the filmmakers and their stars have sending up a truly outrageous story, it never quite manages to engage the heart. That really would have been a coup.

Cert: 12A

Between them, Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston have been in some pretty ropey movies of late, but The Bounty Hunter is a whole other level of rotten. An attempt at mixing romantic comedy with a thriller, it’s neither romantic nor funny nor thrilling. You could at least hope that something so flimsy would be over quickly, but at almost two hours – and feeling like two days – it doesn’t even have pithiness on its side.

Butler is Milo Boyd, a slovenly, debt-ridden former cop who now now ekes out a living as a bounty hunter, bringing in people who skip bail. Aniston is his ex-wife Nicole, a hot shot local reporter who misses a court date while investigating a possible murder story, and ends up being Milo’s next case. Cue a road trip in which the constantly-bickering pair find themselves pursued by gangsters, bookie enforcers and Aniston’s love-struck stalker of a colleague.

With a funny script, nifty direction and good performances, it could work. Sadly, it has none of these. Instead of a character-driven plot we get a litany of contrivances, each less believable than the last. At one point a shoot-out and crash on a freeway, followed by a car-jacking, is noticed by nobody at all; when, in the crowded forecourt of a casino, Butler points his gun at a cab driver before slinging Aniston over his shoulder and stuffing her into a car trunk, no one raises a finger – not even the cab driver. Less forgivable even than such lazy, perfunctory plotting is a script that renders the stars’ natural charms utterly redundant.

To make up for the dearth of jokes, story or star chemistry, we get loud, jaunty music – including a hip hop version of Staying Alive – and whacky side characters crow-barred in with an air of total desperation that seems to seep from the film’s every corner. The Bounty Hunter is an insult to stupidity.

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