Despite a decent trailer that manages to deliver a few laughs, Identity Thief in its entirety fails to live up to it’s potential. Finding comic relief in stories about stolen identities is far from an original concept, one that’s managed to work fabulously well in films like the Coen Brothers’ 90’s classic, The Big Lebowski, but left in the hands of Director Seth Gordon, whose other comedic ventures include comedies Horrible Bosses and Four Christmases, the familiar comedy of errors scenario is nothing but a chaotic mess.
The film opens with accountant Sandy Patterson, played by Jason Bateman, who is duped by Melissa McCarthy’s Diana – con woman and said “identity thief” referenced in the movie title – into giving her his social security number simply by calling him up and saying his accounts are in danger, thus allowing her to hack into them herself. Given the current economic environment, and assuming Bateman’s character isn’t supposed to be viewed as completely incompetent, it’s pretty obvious at this point that the filmmakers are operating in the realm of the absurd. Except that, it’s all just a little too easy, and even Bateman seems bored with it all. When his character willingly hands over the information and McCarthy lets out a whispered, yet physically exaggerated interjection, the audience doesn’t laugh because there is anything funny actually happening here in the opening sequence, they laugh because it’s the first time they’re seeing Melissa McCarthy appear on screen.
With his credit cards maxed out, and his job and integrity on the line, Sandy (yes, it’s a boys name too, which the filmmakers will be sure to let you know far too many times than is necessary in one, two-hour movie. We get it, thanks) decides to take matters into his own hands, and sets out to bring Diana (McCarthy) back to justice.
Combined with yet another less than novel road-trip premise, aside from inserting a female antagonist, Craig Mazin’s script fails to provide innovation to these formulaic storylines. McCarthy’s character is basically the female equivalent to Zach Galifianakis in Due Date, admittedly not his best work, but his character still somehow manages to remain a bit more memorable than McCarthy’s Diana. Perhaps this is because instead of allowing McCarthy to work her improv magic, the filmmakers insist on relying on physical farce, depicting her character as a human punching bag who is not only smashed smack dab in the face with a guitar with little effect, but almost instantly bounces back after being hit by a speeding car that sends her body propelling into the air before slamming her onto the asphalt. It’s not that absurdity and physical humor can’t still work when cleverly endeavored, this just isn’t one of those times. With all the similarities to Due Date and its oddball, yet dynamic co-stars, it isn’t surprising that the characters in Identity Thief evoke that familiar feeling of loyalty viewers get when good actors star in bad movies.
Fans of McCarthy and Bateman (who isn’t?) will go to see Identity Thief because of the actors associated with movie, and the actors do their best to deliver on the subpar roles that have been written for them. How much someone likes films that fall into this trying-to-hard, wannabe slapstick genre Hollywood continuously feels the need to bombard us with, will have little to do with the story itself and more to do with where your devotion lies with the specific comedic talent the filmmakers manage to round up. We’ll defend the comedians we’ve followed since they were barely making it doing standup, and we’ll toss aside those we’ve never really cared for from the get-go.
With a name like Identity Thief, one expects to find at least a few clever quips criticizing the economy, and if the all the throat punching, green projectile vomiting, and disturbingly unfunny sex scenes aren’t too distracting, you might actually notice them. Sandy is essentially told he’s replaceable, likely by someone younger and less expensive than himself, or as the film suggests, “maybe even to a new app,” foreclosure signs next to a for sale signs occupy the yards of Diana’s neighbors while she proceeds to live large on the money made from the hard work of others, and the scheme against Sandy’s boss Harold Cornish (Jon Favreau) who presumably exists as a representative of the one percent are all opportunities to incorporate some intelligent humor into the mix, but the filmmakers fail to do so.
Aside from a few one-liners and a witticism referencing Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead (that seemed to skirt right over the heads of most viewers, so perhaps I’m just not the target demographic for this film) Identity Thief provides little in the way of memorable humor, and while McCarthy and Bateman do their best to make the most of the most of poorly written roles filled with cliché dialogue, the fact that the film is so forgettable will likely serve as comfort, making it easier for them also to forget.
G-S-Talking Point: What’s your favorite road trip movie? Also what celebrity would you want to take with you on a road trip??