Review: Identity Thief
PLOT: A Denver-based mid-level accountant for a major corporation finds his identity stolen by a con artist in Florida. In order to clear his name, he has to retrieve the con artist and bring her to justice before everything in his life disappears.
REVIEW: Here's my thing with Melissa McCarthy. I think she's good at what she does, I just don't like what she's doing. Granted, I've had very limited exposure to the comedienne; I've seen BRIDESMAIDS and now IDENTITY THIEF, and in both she portrays a vulgar and incessantly loud woman whose shamelessness hides a fragile soul. In both movies she allows us to laugh with her and at her, because like a female Chris Farley she throws her imposing frame around with reckless abandon, always seemingly desperate for laughs. There's also quite obviously a decent person underneath all the manic buster, but that shamelessness comes at a price, because until that wounded soul comes out, it's a little hard to tolerate the over-the-top antics.
In IDENTITY THIEF, McCarthy plays a woman named Diana, the slovenly thief in question who steals the name of Sandy Bigelow Patterson (Jason Bateman, basically playing himself) to fund an exorbitant lifestyle filled with $2,000 bar bills, shopping sprees and every other possible extravagance. Patterson discovers this well after his name has been run into the ground, his new job is on the line and the police are looking at him for a series of charges. Through some logic that only makes sense in the movies, Patterson decides to travel to Diana in Florida from Denver, take her back to his homebase, and clear his good name of all the dirt she has piled on it.
Once Patterson confronts this very disagreeable person in Florida, he finds that he's not the only one on her trail: a couple of gangsters (Genesis Rodriguez and Tip "T.I." Harris) are after her because she's sold some bad credit card information to their imprisoned boss, while a haggard skip tracer (Robert Patrick) also seeks her out. Before Sandy knows it, he and Diana have to team up in an effort to go back to Denver and avoid these violent thugs. They must travel by car, of course, the better to get into tawdry situations with wacky hicks like Big Chuck (Eric Stonestreet), a hard-drinking cowboy with a penchant for big women, while also making a pitstop to screw over Bateman's snide former boss (Jon Favreau).
IDENTITY THIEF's model is clearly PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES, with Bateman playing the equivalent of Steve Martin's exasperated straight man to McCarthy's inelegant clown ala John Candy. The difference here, however, is that Diana is not a very enjoyable person when we're introduced to her. Irrepressibly selfish and arrogant, Diana isn't an "aw isn't she adorable" comic foil but an obnoxious jerk with little redeeming value. That she gradually grows a conscience and learns a thing or two about responsibility from Bateman's family man isn't very surprising, nor is the fact that he doesn't really have anything to gain from her, other than the satisfaction that he's assisting her to become a better person. That the two would become friends after all the damaging chaos they go through is quite preposterous, but preposterous is in the movie's DNA.
The lack of common sense exhibited wouldn't be such a bother if IDENTITY THIEF were actually amusing, but it just isn't. Most of the jokes are very easy: Bateman does his "why my?" best when Sandy is mocked countless times because he has a "girl's name" as if he knows the material is well beneath him, while McCarthy squeezes all she can out of pratfalls and countless profanity-laced barbs. Diana's habit of punching people in the throat is given more than a couple scenes, because what's funny once must be funny four or five times by IDENTITY THIEF's measure. Even when it has a fun idea, the film misses the mark: since Diana is a natural-born liar, she finds more than a few occasions to invent on-the-spot identities for her and Sandy to sympathetic bystanders. Director Seth Gordon and screenwriter Craig Mazin might have gotten clever with this concept, provided their actors with something to dig into, but the potential is barely grazed.
Also worth mentioning: IDENTITY THIEF's has a 111 minute running time; a meager comedy like this needs to be 95 minutes tops, and there is plenty the filmmakers could have cut. (In fact, they could have cut the entire contrived subplot about the bounty hunters on Diana's trail, it adds absolutely zero.)
The film is obviously meant to benefit from the chemistry between Bateman and McCarthy, and the two actually do develop a rapport in spite of everything going against them. (I'm speaking of the actors, not the characters.) Late in the movie there comes a scene where we finally find out something meaningful about Diana: that she actually has no idea who she is; her family abandoned her as a baby, resulting in a self-made con-artist who can't seem to decide on an actual identity. It's a schmaltzy moment (again reminiscent of PLANES, TRAINS and AUTOMOBILES, when we finally learn the sad truth about Del Griffith), but McCarthy really nails it; you get why her star is on the rise and people enjoy her. In that one scene, she's vulnerable and sweet, and as Bateman's Sandy finally sees what's behind the rancid persona Diana has crafted, we too see that McCarthy has a lovable side that should be made use of instead of this boorish cartoon she's been playing thus far in the film.