The Film: Identity Thief (2013)
The Principals: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Amanda Peet, T.I., Genesis Rodriguez, Robert Patrick, John Cho, Morris Chestnut, Eric Stonestreet. Directed by Seth Gordon.
The Premise: Denver businessman Sandy Patterson (Bateman) has his identity swiped by Diana (McCarthy), a Floridian ne’er-do-well living the high life under his name. When Sandy’s employees finger him on an outstanding warrant Diana has under his name, he sets out to Florida to settle the score, leading to a madcap road trip to clear his name.
Is It Good? Every so often, a movie is unleashed on pop culture that represents some kind of watershed announcement of unbridled success financially and socially. Roughly every year, at least one film will jump out of the gallows, and in its path come a countless wave of similar films emulating that success, the degrees of achievement varying from execrable to a worthy successor. Four years ago, The Hangover worked because of its fairly realistic protagonists thrust into a high-concept odyssey, making the debauchery feel authentic, if not realistic.
Now, Identity Thief comes along, a miscalculated effort in its use of its talented cast and a complete failure to see through its potential. The ad campaign for this film has succeeded in making it the #1 movie in America, giving it the minute distinction of being the biggest R-rated comedy opening at the box office of all time, which means nothing when it ranks #8,366 on the list of the funniest comedies of all time. This film purports to ride on the coattails of The Hangover, and with it we have sunken to an ugly, tasteless low that may take us on a joyride to a post-Hangover era of the comedic vernacular.
This woefully inbred collision of Midnight Run and Planes, Trains and Automobiles exploits the chronicles of Jason Bateman’s hapless, recession-era banker to clear his name from Melissa McCarthy’s phishing trickster without any need for character and lets loose a mess of assumed, glorified stereotypes on its heightened reality. With its mean-spirited, sophomoric jokes and annoying, undercooked characters, Identity Thief amounts to no more than an R-rated episode of a multi-camera sitcom entering its unwanted sixth season. It pains me to say it as much as I love Bateman and McCarthy, but they’re playing roles that would have been warmed over as a Tom Hanks/Roseanne vehicle or with Steve Martin and Bette Midler assuming the roles circa 1989. Bateman is flecked with shit for being too passive to fall for McCarthy’s buffoonish, anarchic Diana, and that’s where the film falls apart, not in her performance but the character itself.
No matter how hard McCarthy tries, Diana is about as psychologically friendly as Heath Ledger was as the Joker, hammering her grotesque life philosophy into Sandy (Bateman) and effectively mentally abusing him. Compare her to John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, whose introverted tragedies were undercut by his loud, talkative persona: she’s a despicable, broken woman, and as hard as she tries, McCarthy is never allowed to embrace a kind of pathos the character deserves.
Somewhere, an iteration of this exists with a biting satire of economic downturn and information overload working hand in hand to pressure Sandy into his haphazard road trip. As audience appeasement, however, it fails miserably, shoehorning a subplot with a southern-fried bounty hunter played by Robert Patrick and rapper T.I. and Genesis Rodriguez as hideous ethnic stereotypes and drug dealers who want Diana for reasons never entirely explained (for the latter at least). They only lengthen what is already a miserable failure, taking it into territory of the inherently awful.
Is It Worth a Look? Not even if your life depended on it.
Random Anecdotes: Diana was originally written as a male character, but was rewritten for Melissa McCarthy at Jason Bateman’s recommendation.
Cinematic Soulmates: Midnight Run, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Miami Blues, Ruthless People
Now in Theaters. Take my word. Don’t see it.