Monday, March 11, 2013

Identity Thief Movie Review

It seems like a road trip comedy with Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman in which he’s been the victim of identity theft by her hands should be comedy gold – or something close to it anyway. McCarthy was the Oscar-nominated breakout star in Bridesmaids and Bateman has had one of the longest and most successful career renaissances in modern Hollywood history. His sarcastic straight man to her wild and boisterous comedy – both uncomfortably physical and tyrannically verbal – should be a great match. However, something was glaringly absent if I sat through most of Identity Thief without cracking a smile more than a handful of times.

Writer Craig Mazin knows how to put most of the right elements in place. He’s got a sympathetic protagonist in Sandy Patterson (Bateman), a numbers cruncher in a financial institution with an adorable and loving family of two children, a third on the way, and Amanda Peet for a wife. His boss is a condescending ass, but his co-workers have a great new opportunity for him. And of course a comedy road trip with a mismatched duo is a classic storytelling device. The premise is promising, with a pathological liar and impersonator destroying the credit history and possibly job prospects of an otherwise honest and upstanding citizen.

Because of a set of circumstances too complicated to explain, Sandy has to personally bring McCarthy’s character (fake Sandy, or Diana) from Florida to Denver. If they simply flew there would hardly be a movie, so the movie gods conspire to keep them bound to the road, providing plenty of opportunity for them to get in adventures, have their car damaged or destroyed, lose clothes, engage in bizarre sexual trysts, and evade bounty hunters. That last bit presents the film’s worse elements. Presumably Mazin found himself in need of a plot point that would get Diana to willingly go along with Sandy for the ride, so he added a whole subplot involving a crime syndicate that’s pissed off at her for passing off bad credit cards. It ends up being a completely unnecessary side plot that results in horribly lazy writing designed to cover up gaping plot holes, like when one character asks another how he tracked them to their specific location (a great question considering the unbelievable coincidence) and a throwaway line is injected about a car with GPS and a confederate working at the rental agency.

Bateman’s got the charm and winning smile to carry the movie and McCarthy has certainly demonstrated the comedic chops to generate big laughs. While she gets a few here, it’s Seth Gordon’s direction that sinks the movie. Any sense you had from Horrible Bosses that Gordon could successfully direct a lasting comedy should now be squashed. In retrospect, the success of his previous effort was due mainly to the presence of the oft-unhinged Charlie Day. Gordon doesn’t quite know what to do with McCarthy and so he resorts to the same tired sight gags a few too many times. How many times can we watch her punch someone in the throat? It’s barely funny the first time and then by the time it happens in the film’s coda it’s well-worn and utterly predictable.

The occasional chuckle I let out did not make up for the dullness felt while sitting through some seriously cringe-inducing scenes involving guns and violence played for comedy. There are terrible shifts in tone throughout the film. It feels much less like the almost dark comedy that Horrible Bosses was and much more like a jumbled mess of ideas and overwriting. This film will not be long-remembered, I assure you.

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