Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Seth Gordon
Stars: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Jon Favreau, Eric Stonestreet, Genesis Rodriguez, T I Harris, John Cho, Morris Chestnut, Amanda Peet.
This dreary but inexplicably successful comedy gives us yet another take on the familiar buddy movie genre featuring a mismatched couple on a road trip from hell. The concept was done so well in Trains Planes And Automobiles, and imitated in films like Due Date and the recent dire The Guilt Trip, but here again it fails to make the distance.
Jason Bateman plays a depressingly familiar role here as Sandy Patterson, a mild mannered, hard working, honest but harassed, beleaguered accountant trying to sort out his suddenly messy life. He plays an uptight accountant who gives out his social security number and credit details to a telephone caller selling insurance protection for stolen credit cards. He shortly discovers that his identity has been stolen by the lonely, insecure sociopath Diana (Melissa McCarthy, from Bridesmaids, etc, in her first leading role), the titular identity thief. She has run up thousands of dollars worth of debts in his name. Now with his reputation, security and job threatened, Patterson heads off to Florida to find Diana and bring her back to Colorado to clear his name.
Unfortunately the mission does not go smoothly, as the sociopathic Diana proves to be quite a formidable opponent, nimble, and vicious with punches to the throat a specialty. And to further complicate matters she is being pursued rather aggressively by a skip tracer (Robert Patrick) and two anonymous gangsters (Genesis Rodriguez and rapper T I Harris), hired by another of her victims who is serving time in prison. The cross country trip tests Sandy’s patience as the sassy, fast-talking Diana is quite an annoying companion, but eventually the pair slowly begin to bond.
The central concept behind this comedy is fairly predictable and borrows heavily from classics like the aforementioned Steve Martin/John Candy comedy, but the whole film itself lacks credibility. Identity Thief is let down by some pedestrian and lazy direction from Seth Gordon (the workplace revenge comedy Horrible Bosses, etc), and the bloated, lacklustre script from Craig Mazin (who also wrote Scary Movie 3 & 4, The Hangover Part II, etc) and Jerry Eeten. The idea of electronic identity theft has numerous comic possibilities, few of which are explored here.
The film is tonally uneven, episodic in structure, and much of the humour is cruel and mean spirited, often at Diana’s expense. What few laughs are to be found contrast markedly with some darker moments of violence in the second half. And the ending wallows in mawkish sentimentality that is both unconvincing and unnecessary.
What saves the film are the two lead performances and there is some wonderful chemistry between Bateman and McCarthy. Both actors have built up plenty of goodwill through previous outings, but that soon dissipates as Identity Thief plays out. Bateman is good as the deadpan, desperate and highly strung straight man, a role that he has perfected in several movies of late. He is content to leave the bulk of the big laughs to McCarthy.
The role of the scam artist was originally conceived as male, but at Bateman’s suggestion the gender was changed, which altered the dynamics at play during the road trip. As she demonstrated in Bridesmaids, the scene stealing McCarthy is willing to do just about anything to get a laugh. McCarthy plays to her strengths here, firing off zingers and occasionally improvising some of her whackier moments. And there is plenty of physical slapstick comedy here too that enables her to show another side to her talent for creating laughs out of virtually nothing.
The ensemble supporting cast includes Harold & Kumar’s John Cho as Sandy’s friend and employer; Morris Chestnut as the detective investigating Sandy’s dilemma; Jon Favreau as a horrible boss; and Amanda Peet, who is given little to do as Sandy’s long suffering, sympathetic and pregnant wife. The most bizarre and tasteless sequence though involves Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet as Big Chuck, an extroverted cowboy with a taste for kinky sex, that the pair meet in a bar.
Identity Thief is a cheap and misguided imitation of far superior comedies, and falls flat. Like many modern comedies it is far too long, and overstays its welcome by a good 20 minutes! The only thing stolen of value here is two hours of your life!