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Films: I love you Philip Morris * * * *

(comedy. Starring Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro. Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. cert 15A)

A few years back, a pre-christmas edition of Liveline provided great entertainment when an outraged member of the public ranted and raved at the upset caused to his six-year-old lad, who was traumatised by the goings-on in Bad Santa.

That the manager of the cinema in question came on and tried to patiently explain that the film happened to have the word 'bad' in the title and carried an 18 certificate didn't stop the punter continuing his tirade about the depravity of the film his child had been subjected to, such as having to watch Billy Bob Thornton's store Santa vomiting all over the place and having sex with waitresses while still wearing his uniform. Now that the lad is a tad older I wonder will his da be bringing him to I Love You Phillip Morris to see that rubber-faced funnyman Jim Carrey.

I mention the Bad Santa episode because the sick-minded pair who concocted that deliciously unseasonal entertainment, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, make their debuts behind the camera for what's sure to be one of the most unusual comedies of the year -- and possibly one of the funniest.

Within the first ten minutes Ficarra and Requa have fizzed through more ideas than most comedy directors manage in ten times that period, setting the tone over the credits by informing us that "This really happened. It really did" before showing us a dying Jim Carrey lying there resisting the urge to gurn on a hospital gurney and then flashing back through the early stages of his life.

Carrey plays Steven Russell, a cop married to a religious nut who discovers that he's adopted, is rejected by his birth mother, realises he's gay and leaves for Florida to embrace his new-found lifestyle in full. One of life's more flamboyant individuals, Russell quickly discovers that "being gay is really expensive" and taps into his natural instincts as a conman in order to fund his expensive tastes.

Having been caught and finding himself in prison, Russell falls in love with the Phillip Morris of the title and the film really gets into gear. Played by Ewan McGregor, Morris is more of a cipher as a character but Russell's devotion to him allows Carrey free rein when the pair are released and Russell's scams and schemes become ever more outrageous.

Carrey really is on wonderful form here, tempering his more extreme tendencies which could have been all too easily indulged given the storyline. It helps enormously that the script -- by the directors and adapted from a book by Steve McVicker -- is not only as tight as a drum (the film clocks in at around 95 minutes) but crammed with genuinely funny lines and scenarios, one of which, as Russell is impersonating a lawyer in a judge's chambers, allows Carrey to be the funniest he's been in years.

There are probably some potential audience members out there who'll be put off the the gay aspect of the story, but that's their loss because I Love You Phillip Morris is an inventive, captivating and hilarious movie. And the fact that it really happened makes it all the more remarkable. HHHHI