4 posts categorized "con men"


Carrey's frantic love call for 'Phillip Mor-ris'

Jim Carrey has been waiting a very long time to make a dagger of a movie like "I Love You Phillip Morris."

This outrageous tale -- based on actual events, by the way -- about a family man turned con man turned gay con man desperately trying to impress his soul mate, but having to continually bust out of jail to do it, is not a drama as such.

It's a black hole dark comedy congealed with drama.  In this case, that's an odd dynamic perfectly suited to Carrey's charismatic charm and fits of wild abandon.

If you're wondering just how dark the comic elements might be, know this.  "I Love You Phillip Morris," based on former Houston Chronicle investigative reporter Steve McVicker's book, is co-written and co-directed by writing partners Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.
Can't quite place the names?  Ficarra and Requa are the screenwriters who fed Billy Bob Thornton's outstanding way-down and way-dirty performance in "Bad Santa" (2003).

"Phillip Morris" sneaks up on you.  When we first meet Steven Russell (Carrey), he's a seemingly happy family man playing organ for the church choir in Virginia and working as a police officer.

Never quite getting over the fact that his mother gave him up for adoption, Steven bends the rules, using his law enforcement computer to track down his birth mother.  The meeting doesn't go well, and "I Love You Phillip Morris" launches into a tale of self-discovery about living a lie (he's gay) and learning that his outgoing nature may be more suited to a career as a con man than a cop in uniform.

One of the things I like best about this raw embracing of a person's inner (and long-hidden) drives is that the co-directors (in their initial feature film effort) and Carrey flamboyantly keep the tone pedal to the metal.

Maybe it's because I've seen Carrey not reach his full potential in films like "The Number 23" (2007) and "The Majestic" (2001) that I celebrate (perhaps along with him) for gathering up his comic charisma, his likable on-screen nature and his yearning for dramatic effect and rolling it into an improbably charming cinematic snowball.
While refreshing, this is one snowball that hits us in the gut and leaves a mark.

Set primarily in Texas (but shot in Louisiana), "Phillip Morris" chugs along at a brisk pace.  Steven meets Mr. Right (Ewan McGregor as Phillip Morris) in jail, then goes more than a little nuts busting out of confinement on several occasions to be with the man he loves.

Leslie Mann, who shared the screen with Carrey in  "The Cable Guy" (1996), brings proper charm and dismay to Debbie, the wife left not for another woman but for a man.  Any man, in fact, at least in the early going.

McGregor scored his own acting triumph this year in "The Ghost Writer." He tones everything down to play Phillip, who, in the long run, becomes as perplexed about Steven as his former wife did.

"I Love You Phillip Morris" will likely blindside you with real, growing sentiment near the end.  Not the fake kind, either, like in "The Majestic," a failed barely disguised remake of "It's a Wonderful Life."

I'm talking the real thing; convincing dramatic acting from a gifted comic who has always wanted to move his audience without a scrunched-up face or a pratfall.

I love you, "Phillip Morris," for finally giving Jim Carrey that chance.


An eccentric junkyard comedy from France

Gadget-filled movies can be tricky to pull off.  Spend too much time showing the click-clack movements and the playful tone of even a merry little film can become lost.

That's not a problem for French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet.  Offbeat forms the center, not the edge, for most cinematic dazzlements from the writer-director of "Delicatessen" in 1991, "The City of Lost Children" in 1995 and the Oscar-nominated gem "Amélie" in 2001.

In French with subtitles, "Micmacs" beautifully blends Jeunet's love for the eccentric and the outrageous.  Dany Boon, the gifted French star of  "The Valet," hops in Jeunet's freakish rumble seat as gentle-but-vengeful Bazil and scores another winner.

Oddly, Boon wasn't even supposed to appear in "Micmacs."  Jeunet and writing partner Guillaume Laurant penned the role with Jamel Debbouze ("Indigènes") in mind.  Debbouze bowed out shortly before shooting was to begin.  Boon hesitated at first (turned down the role, actually), then was lured back in.

Thank goodness he did.  Boon turns in a flawless performance as a man who has been victimized twice by weapons of single destruction.  When he was a child, his father was taken from him by a land mine.  As an adult, Bazil takes a stray bullet to the head while minding a video store and watching Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in "The Big Sleep."

If you know Jeunet's refreshing, anything-goes style, it won't surprise you that doctors flip a coin in the operating room to decide Bazil's slim hope of survival.  For those unfamiliar with the filmmaker's playful nature of life's serious moments and those dealing with them, just go along with the absurdity and you're likely to quickly become a fan.

There's a little Charlie Chaplin and more than a little Buster Keaton in Boon's turn.  Bazil is a comic tragic figure.  Yet even though life keeps dealing him near-death blows, Bazil takes life one child-like wide-eyed moment at a time.

Fate brings him into a circle of junkyard dealing scavengers who take him in.  When Bazil happens upon the feuding weapons manufactures responsible for his unfortunate circumstances, the obscure skills of his foraging friends (Jean-Pierre Marielle as Slammer, Julie Ferrier as Elastic Girl, etc.) come into play as Jeunet rolls out the gadgets and shifts gear into a con man caper.

Leave it to the wonderfully creative Frenchman to come up with a way to involve a human cannonball in a comic sting operation.

The acting is inspired.  The story oozes creativity and a macabre comic tone.  Granted, the final reel may be a little too gimmicky for some at times.

That's merely a slight "Micmacs" nitpick.


You should keep up with 'The Joneses'

Early, but not too early one Saturday morn you hear an unfamiliar, but very smooth dull roar outside your window.

Your neighbor next door has a shiny, sleek new lawnmower, that showoff.  You fight it, but soon you want one just like it.

Welcome to consumerism.  Or in the case of the clever dark comic-drama "The Joneses," welcome to potentially lethal stealth consumerism.

In his first stint in a feature film director's chair, writer-director-producer Derrick Borte unveils a fascinating new way to view jealously, the green-eyed monster.

There's something just a little better than everyone else about the Jones family from the moment they move into the upper-middle-class gated community.  They have the latest electronic gadgets. They seem well adjusted and happy.  Maybe too happy.  Also, their refrigerator is stocked with food and drink no one else has even heard of yet, but will soon want.

Are mom (Demi Moore) and dad (David Duchovny) and the high school-age kids (Amber Heard and Ben Hollingsworth) for real, or have the "Stepford Wives" moved in?

Oh, they're real all right.  They're just not a real family.  Steve (Duchovny), Kate (Moore), Jenn (Heard) and Mick (Hollingsworth) are a stealth sales unit put together by a sales coordinator portrayed by Lauren Hutton.  When they invite neighbors and friends over for snacks, it's a serious product placement sales event for them, and the neighbors have no idea they're being suckered in.

Borte, an artist and TV commercial director, explores his fascination with the power of advertising beautifully.  Moore, on screen recently in "Happy Tears," and Duchovny hit on all cylinders together as spousal posers with a hint of genuine feelings between them.

While this scenario may not be quite as far out there as Duchovny's "The X-Files," it's eerie enough and fresh enough to hold the audience's attention throughout.  Gary Cole and Glenne Headly are convincing as Larry and Summer Symonds, the gullible next door neighbors who pay the price for serious consumerism envy.

"The Joneses" falters just a bit in its casting.  Heard, the Texas native who appeared in "Pineapple Express," and Hollingsworth ("The Beautiful Life" on cable TV), a Canadian, are capable actors.  They're just too old to pass as high schoolers.

I understand why Borte took this approach.  They both take on adult situations younger actors might shy away from.

Other than that, however, this is a darkly comic drama that entertains and has plenty to say about keeping up with, you know who.  


Gloom, 'Bloom' and kaboom

"The Brothers Bloom," written and directed by emerging filmmaker of note Rian Johnson, is one of those intricate con-man comedies full of quirks.

If you liked "The Sting" and especially "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," there's a good chance you'll at least be intrigued by Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo as con men siblings who agree to pull off one last sting operation.

Johnson's screenplay lives in a lower tonal octave than either "The Sting" or "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," however. This one's all about gloom and, come to think of it, boom. Things blow up real good at times.

Stephen (Ruffalo) is the mastermind. He makes up elaborate scenarios and -- usually after much prodding -- convinces younger brother Bloom (Brody) to go along.

Bloom has had it with the game playing for profit, though. He reluctantly agrees on one last big job and, wouldn't you know it, he falls in love with the mark. She's an eccentric, bored, wealthy New Jersey heiress portrayed without a flaw by Oscar winner Rachel Weisz ("The Constant Gardener").

Once he's entrenched in her life, Bloom asks Penelope (Weisz) what she does to occupy her time.
"I collect hobbies," she replies in monotone before demonstrating a dozen or so of her acquired skills (skateboarding, ping pong, etc.).

Ruffalo, who had the misfortune to co-star in "Blindness," and Brody, an Academy Award winner for his fine work in "The Pianist" in 2002, are believable enough as brothers. And certainly Weisz can only improve almost any movie she graces.

"The Brothers Bloom" comes close, but it never quite blossoms into a globe-trotting con game you're likely to be enthralled by all the way through.

I must say, though, Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi, an Oscar nominee for her work as the deaf teen in "Babel," is a load of fun as the usually silent Bang Bang, the gang's demolition expert.

Johnson took a Sundance Film Fest prize for originality for "Brick," his first feature. He shows here that he hasn't quite reached his full potential as a filmmaker. But it's coming. I'm sure of it.

"The Brothers Bloom" bogs down in its own gloom at times.