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2/08/2013

Review: 'Identity Thief' starring Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman


On paper, Identity Thief should be a no-brainer comedy hit, right? Everybody loves Melissa McCarthy all of a sudden, thanks to her riotous breakout in Bridesmaids, catapulting her to the top of everyone's "It" list. Her style of physical comedy should make for a nice contrast to co-star Jason Bateman, re-teaming with his Horrible Bosses director Seth Gordon, and featuring a script by The Hangover 2's Craig Mazin, there's no reason why this film should bomb. And yet it does. Spectacularly. It's about as woeful and incompetent as possible, and screws up one of the most reliable genres of all: the road trip movie.

There's this whole thing about identity theft and Bateman's character, unfortunately named Sandy Bigelow Patterson, who has his unique name stolen by Diana, an obnoxious Florida con-artist played by McCarthy, but it's really just an excuse to get the two characters in the same car for what should be a 2-minute sketch. Instead a razor thin "plot" creaks through an interminable 111 laugh-free minutes of Bateman's doing his Michael Bluth routine, while McCarthy practically breaks her back trying to make this degrading script fly.

When Sandy sees his job and his entire life threatened as his credit is ruined, he hops on the first plane out of Denver right down to Florida, hoping to drag Diana back home to clear his good name. Finding her easily enough, the rest of his task is ridiculously complicated. She has a habit of punching people in the throat, which Sandy is a victim of multiple times and is never funny, but she's also in a state of denial as to the impact of her actions. She's a criminal, period, but Mazin's piss-poor script attempts to humanize her almost immediately by painting her as merely a lost and lonely soul. There's also a labored attempt to try and justify her thievery later on in a badly delivered "message moment", so at least there's consistency in its tacit approval of white collar crime.

This ugly and rather mean-spirited film, with jokes that are so lowbrow they're totally underfoot, creaks through a number of recycled road trip gags. A bar stop leads to an ugly potential three-way sex scene, but ends up just a really nasty means of making fun of overweight people. Camping trips never turn out well, but at least they tend to be good for a few laughs.....unless they're in Identity Thief. Because this concept can only stretch so far, time is frittered away with the emergence of a pair of killers (a wasted Genesis Rodriguez and Tip "T.I." Harris) looking to kill Diana over a deal gone bad. Oh, and Robert Patrick does a riff on his old Terminator days as a bounty hunter who just won't give up the chase.

Any hint of believability is trampled as Sandy and Diana slowly become pals along the way, and of course there will be LIFE LESSONS!  One of those, learned as Sandy plots to steal from his greedy boss (a devilish cameo by Jon Favreau), is that it's sometimes alright to be a criminal. Just make sure the victims are bad, too. Hannibal Lecter had a similar theory. Horrible Bosses isn't particularly good, but it at least got the downtrodden employee vs. management dynamic right in a fun way.
Bateman's performance is uninspiring at best, pathetic at worst. He's in desperate need of a swift kick in the pants to get him off an incredibly lousy streak. It's bad when he can't even find decent chemistry with McCarthy, who puts up a game effort but she's not strong enough to carry such weak material. She does a decent job of making you not actively root against Diana, but an overly earnest tearjerker moment fails as a transparent attempt to make us totally forgive her. In a desperate and insulting last ditch effort, Diana receives a pretty girl make-over which convinces Sandy that maybe she's not so bad.

Gordon's career got off to a great start with the video game documentary The King of Kong, and ever since he's been drifting along making mediocre, easily marketable comedies that are never worth a repeat viewing. Identity Thief isn't worth giving a single shot. Treat it like a maxed out credit card and simply decline it.