This dark comedy directed by the writers of Bad Santa, and based on the book by Steve McVicker, is a bright, bubbly uber-camp true story of one con-man’s rise to criminal infamy; a thoroughly entertaining watch but lacking in the sort of depth or tangibility that is arguably necessary of a biopic.
Steven Russell (Carey) is the recently ‘outed’ former cop and family man who discovers that his new gay lifestyle exceeds his monetary means. Soon he’s using his bravura and charm to dupe his way into receiving huge lawsuit sums and high powered jobs. Inevitably he’s caught out, but his spells in prison don’t mean the end of his deceitful ways, as his audacious stunts mean the con-man may as well be wedged in the jail system’s revolving door. Whilst incarcerated, Russell also meets a gentle fellow prisoner whose influence may or may not trigger the end of his criminal habits.
The film is presented as a kind of urban legend; during the beginning credits we’re told that “This really happened. It really did” and throughout the film you’ll be asking yourself “did it?” not just because the events are so deliciously absurd, but because the casting of Jim Carrey to portray a real-life man is ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong Carrey is captivating; his comic timing is always spot on, and his intense animation always ensures he steals a scene, yet there is something other-worldly about him that just doesn’t seem to translate to real life. There are some hilarious moments throughout, and Ewan McGregor is also pretty good as the leading man’s sunny love interest Phillip Morris, but similarly, instead of establishing a more believable romantic story the filmmakers seem primarily to exploit the comic possibilities of their homosexual relationship, which is a shame.
In comparison to Catch Me If You Can, another light hearted con-man movie, this is considerably less satisfying; whilst Spielberg utilizes the possibility of letting the audience realize their outlaw fantasies by closely following Frank Abagnale’s audacious plans in detail, Steven Russell’s methods are merely touched upon. However, this does prove beneficial toward the end with the wicked little plot twist. Ultimately this is a really amusing watch and is definitely a little different. But if you’re watching for the true story you may just prefer to read a basic biography on Steven Russell, as his brazenly wild character sort of renders the gloss and aesthetics of this film a little extraneous.