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Identity Thief Wastes the Talents of Two Good Comedic Actors

Identity Thief
Directed by Seth Gordon
Written by Craig Mazin from a story by Mazin and Jerry Eeten
Universal, 2013

Jason Bateman built up a huge amount of comedy cred from “Arrested Development,” and during that show’s run, we’d see him in a cameo that was really funny like Dodgeball, or he’d show up as a small character.  But Bateman’s track record as a lead has been awful, not because I don’t like the guy and don’t want him to succeed, but the movies he’s the lead in always seem to cast him as this “white dude who gets screwed over at work and/or at home.”  It worked great with Gordon’s Horrible Bosses, mainly because it wasn’t all on him.  But it’s been spotty with movies like Extract (which I kind of liked) and this week’s Identity Thief.  And movies like The Switch, The Change-Up, and Couples Retreat don’t help either.

On the same side of this coin is Melissa McCarthy, who made a star-making turn in Bridesmaids a couple of years ago and made an absolutely profane appearance in This Is 40 that solidified her as a comedy star.  Like many who look like her, she’s had a difficult road to stardom even though she’s been in the business forever.  She was briefly in Go, but you couldn’t miss her because her performance was so memorable (she was the girl at the door when Scott Wolf and Jay Mohr came looking for her roommate), and then she spent several seasons on the much-loved, not-much-watched Gilmore Girls.  A performance in the indie movie The Nines showed she had chops.  But now, with Bridesmaids, and Mike & Molly, and This Is 40, McCarthy fits a role once owned by John Candy, the lovable, overweight, many-times-annoying gnat that won’t go away.

So speaking of John Candy, Identity Thief is basically Plains, Trains, and Automobiles, and add Midnight Run.  Those movies are funny, but this one isn’t, even though both Bateman and McCarthy are winning actors.  They just can’t do much with this material.  Sandy Patterson (Bateman) is a bank accountant in Denver getting screwed over by his boss Harold Cornish (Jon Favreau).  Sandy is getting even more screwed over by “Diana,” (McCarthy), a Florida woman who is able to extract some information from Patterson to steal his identity.  That means huge credit card debt, and when Diana sells the unpaid, maxed-out credit cards to a drug dealer (an uncredited Jonathan Banks, from Breaking Bad), the result of this identity theft is that Sandy now faces horrible credit debt, charges from the police, and a drug dealer who wants to kill him.

This is also bad because Sandy has left his job to join a co-worker’s (John Cho) new firm, and all this talk of debt and trouble with the law is something that can sink a new business.  Plus, the cops can’t seem to do anything unless the fake Sandy is in Denver, and can’t do anything to get the fake Sandy from Florida to Colorado.  So, against all odds, Sandy pitches the idea to the police that he will go down to Florida and drag Diana in.  Luckily, he has a supportive wife (Amanda Peet) and two lovable daughters at home who let him do this.

So Sandy goes to Florida, finds Diana, and after the understandable struggles of trying to get a criminal to come along to clear Sandy’s name, Sandy manages to keep her around.  Of course, Diana is annoying, always wanting to get into trouble, mischievous, and has had a bad life all the way round.  They have to dodge the cops, the drug dealer’s henchmen (Genesis Rodriguez and T.I.), and another bounty hunter guy played by Robert Patrick, while also hopefully not running out of money or time.

It tries to be funny, but man, it just doesn’t succeed.  There’s a protracted sequence where Diana meets a guy who thinks she’s cute (Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet) and she brings him back to their motel room that of course, only has one bed and is the only motel anywhere in Georgia, apparently.  There’s a scene where Sandy’s car miraculously survives all dings, but then a huge truck inexplicably just runs into it just so we can have that “wah-wah” joke.  It’s the kind of movie where the bad guys will be driving down a road and someone just happens to mention the exact direction the people they’re looking for went.  And it doesn’t matter because bad guys can track anywhere anyone goes no matter what.  There’s also a scene where Sandy has to ironically commit the same crime Diana did, and gets in trouble for it, but all is forgotten after the inevitable escape sequence and happy ending.

There’s only so much “annoying” will get you in a movie, and that gives us a couple of OK moments.  Bateman made me laugh trying to take on the persona of a redneck wife-beater for a brief moment in a restaurant, but overall, this is bottom of the barrel.  These are likeable people but the situations just aren’t good enough, or anything we haven’t seen before.

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