Identity Thief brings us into the world of straight-laced Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman), a man just waiting on that next promotion at work to help secure his family’s future. When it becomes clear that the corporate world isn’t going to cut him a break, Sandy joins a small cabal of his co-workers in a bold new spinoff venture that will finally pay him his due.
However, just as things are looking up, Sandy’s world comes crashing down. Diana (Melissa McCarthy) a small-time con-artist has stolen Sandy’s identity, and her illegal antics threaten to derail his new job venture. With the law tied up in jurisdictional bureaucracy, Sandy takes it upon himself to head down to Florida and apprehend the perpetrator. Naturally, things don’t go as smoothly as planned, an epic road trip ensues, and both real and faux Sandy Patterson manage to do a little growing.
Identity Thief is directed by Seth Gordon, who is known for his brand of off-beat subject matter comedy seen in films like Four Christmases and Horrible Bosses; TV projects like Breaking In and even documentaries like Freakanomics and King of Kong. His style tends to be hit or miss amongst comedy fans, and Identity Thief continues that trend. Hovering in some odd space between the edginess of Todd Phillips’ Due Date and your average Kevin James slapstick film – with some serious drama thrown in for weird measure – the movie is a peculiar and only occasionally satisfying ride.
Bateman and McCarthy turn out to be a good pairing, with the former providing his usual straight man wit for McCarthy to bounce all sorts of zany verbal and physical comedy off of. Despite the thinness of the material, The Bridesmaids-breakout proves to be an (at least) earnest and committed lead performer, with a wide facet of comedic talent. No matter if she’s throwing daggers of wit, hilariously playing off her own physicality or even showing some dramatic emoting, McCarthy is definitely a scene-stealing mix of charm and just the right amount of naughty. Bateman, on the other hand, is his usual reliable self.
The problem in this film comes from the script by newcomer Jerry Eten, and Craig Mazin, whose primary contribution to the comedy genre has been conveyor belt films like Scary Movie 3 & 4, Superhero Movie and The Hangover Part II (oh, and the upcoming Hangover 3). Tonally speaking, Identity Thief is just all over the place. From the outset, we’re asked to sympathize with the victim (Sandy) whose good life is being ruined; next second we’re shown our antagonist (Diana) doing despicable things; but in the next second we’re handed a heavy moment meant to humanize our despicable antagonist – before she does something despicable again in the second after that. While McCarthy pulls off each moment of this act, as a viewer it’s hard to know who to care for or how much – or what outcome we should root for.
Add in odd tableau of supporting characters played by a strange array of actors, and the picture gets even more off-beat and awkward. Rapper/actor T.I. (Takers, ATL) and breakout bombshell Genesis Rodriguez (The Last Sand, Casa de Mi Padre) play two gangsters on Diana’s tail with such hard menace, it’s like somebody forcibly wedged a slice of urban crime drama into a white bread comedy. That entire subplot is definitely something the movie could do without, as it offers nothing but the occasional motivation for our protagonists to make another slapstick-style escape.
Actors like Jon Favreau (Swingers), Robert Patrick (Gangster Squad) and Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family) seem a little more in on the joke with their respective cameo roles; but other supporting actors like Amanda Peet (Whole Nine Yards), Morris Chestnut (Think Like a Man) and Jon Cho (Harold & Kumar) are pretty much just wasted playing straightforward generic character archetypes (the wife, the cop, the boss, etc…).
Some of the scenes and sequences Gordon stages pay comedic dividends (see: the motel scene); but just as many of them pass by with nothing more than a few bland chuckles to show for the effort. This is a road trip movie in which you can easily get lost in terms of where everyone is at any given moment of their mad dash – while where they are going (literally and figuratively speaking) is as predictable and unexciting as every other movie that has tried (and failed) to rehash the Plains, Trains & Automobiles formula.
By the time we hit an overly-saccharine ending, Identity Thief will already be half out of mind, except to say, ‘that Melissa McCarthy sure is talented.’ Here’s hoping she’s provided with better starring vehicles in the future.
Identity Thief is now playing in theaters. It is 112 minutes long and is Rated R for sexual content and language.