Identity Thief (2013) / Comedy

MPAA rated: R for sexual content and language
Length: 111 min.

Cast: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Amanda Peet, John Cho, Robert Patrick, T.I., Genesis Rodriguez, Jon Favreau, Morris Chestnut, Eric Stonestreet
Director: Seth Gordon
Screenplay: Craig Mazin
Review published March 4, 2013

Identity Thief 2013 McCarthy BatemanJason Bateman (The Change-up, Up in the Air) plays a corporate accounts rep in Denver named Sandy Patterson, who finds his life turned upside down when he becomes the unwitting victim of a woman in Florida (McCarthy, This is 40) who steals his identity, crafting her own drivers license, credit cards and every other form of identification in his name with her picture on them, while racking up thousands of dollars in debt traced back to him.  His new employers need him to clear his name before he can have his job back, and when the police are of little help, Sandy finds he must bring in the criminal himself, and do so within the week.  Leaving his wife (Peet, The Ex) and daughters behind, Sandy flies to Florida with the intent of bringing back the wily imposter to face the music, but with a tenacious bounty hunter (Patrick, Gangster Squad) and a couple of hired thugs on her tail, Sandy's going to have a hell of a time getting her to her final destination.

Director Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses, The King of Kong) struggles to maintain a consistent tone with the DOA script by Craig Mazin (Superhero Movie, Scary Movie 4), allowing his stars to ad-lib their way into hilarity when it became obvious that there just weren't many opportunities for laughs in the awful screenplay.  Perhaps a bit of trimming may have been in order, as a story this devoid of substance doesn't require a nearly two-hour run time, especially when there are at least two unnecessary and largely unfunny subplots (anything having to do with the skip tracer and the hitmen brings the comic momentum to a screeching halt) that continue to rear their ugly heads just when the comedy begins to hit something close to a stride.

The problem with R-rated comedies today is that the makers seem to think that as long as the jokes push the envelops of rude and crude humor, and the actors are funny enough to riff with each other, the script only needs to provide a springboard to keep the action moving from one potentially funny situation to another and the laughs will just take care of themselves.  Most of these scripts are shamefully lazy in their approach, and Identity Thief is a clear case of one such movie.  Mazin's script is chock-full of scenarios that have no plausible underpinnings -- not in how the corporate world works, not in how police detectives work, and not in how such basic things as credit card agencies and fraud prevention companies operate.  It's a fantasy-land premise done with next to zero research, and worse, assumes we're too ignorant to know the difference, so we're left to blithely to accept that everyone in the movie is a complete idiot for the film to work.

It isn't all the fault of the screenplay.  Identity Thief is all over the map when it comes to the kind of film it wants to be, sometimes playing like a wacky farce, sometimes as a black humor raunch-fest, sometimes as a silly thriller with laughs, and sometimes trying to draw out even some touching moments in a mismatched buddy road-trip comedy, a la Trains Planes and Automobiles.  Bateman plays the straight man throughout, letting McCarthy run completely loose, and while the comedienne does offer up a few solid physical laughs and (quite impressively) knows how to turn the waterworks on when she wants to, the film just feels wildly schizophrenic, as if it were struggling with its own identity, ironically.

While there are some laughs to be had here and there, many of the jokes end up either falling flat or are so tacky or distasteful that they result in taking us momentarily out of the mood to laugh at the next gag or two.  One particularly awful recurring joke is the constant references to Sandy having a woman's name.  In this day and age, the joke is really on the perpetrator of such a notion for sheer ignorance, but in the peculiar world that Identity Thief  inhabits, being called Sandy as a male apparently requires snide retorts by nearly every character who hears the name.  I guess those people are completely zoned out to the history of major league baseball when they've never heard of Sandy Koufax or Sandy Alomar Jr.  But even those moments seem winning compared to the half-dozen attempts at faux sentimentality that rings nothing but hollow.

Unless you think such sophomoric slapstick-y things as people being punched repeatedly in the neck or fat women tumbling on top of (or out of) moving cars to be the height of comic hilarity, there's not much here to recommend to anyone outside of fans who find just the sight of McCarthy to be irresistibly hilarious.  Its plot might have tried to steal the identity of Midnight Run, but without the funny lines, nuanced performances, and snappy direction, the fraudulent goods offered are as phony as a three-dollar bill.

Qwipster's rating:

2013 Vince Leo