Directed by: Seth Gordon.
Written by: Craig Mazin and Jerry Eeten.
Starring: Jason Bateman (Sandy Patterson), Melissa McCarthy (Diana), Amanda Peet (Trish Patterson), T.I. (Julian), Genesis Rodriguez (Marisol), Morris Chestnut (Detective Reilly), John Cho (Daniel Casey), Robert Patrick (Skiptracer), Eric Stonestreet (Big Chuck), Jon Favreau (Harold Cornish).
Melissa McCarthy is an extremely talented comedic actress who I don’t think Hollywood has any idea what to do with. Her performance in Bridesmaids, while a tad overrated, managed to break through the bias against broad comedies of awards season to capture her an Oscar nomination. Her brilliant two scene performance in Judd Apatow’s This is 40 was the best thing about the movie (and the outtake of her rant that play during the end credits made me laugh more than anything else in that movie). She was probably the best host on SNL last season, and I’m looking forward to her hosting again in a few weeks. But as for leading roles in movies, I fear we’re going to have to sit through more films like Identity Thief.
On the surface, Identity Thief should work as a broad comedy. McCarthy can be brilliant, and has no problem going wildly over the top, and in Jason Bateman she has just about the perfect straight man – he did that on Arrested Development, and it’s his specialty in movies now. The problem with Identity Thief is really quite simple – it’s not funny. The screenplay by Craig Mazin and Jerry Eeten quite simply doesn’t give McCarthy and Bateman – not to mention the rest of the cast – anything to do, and worse gives you whiplash with all of the movie’s shifts in tone. Are we supposed to hate McCarthy, like we do in the beginning? Laugh at her, like during the middle part (including a ridiculous, and not in a good way, sex scene) or are we supposed to pity her, as during the film’s final act. A good screenplay could make us do all three, I suppose, but this is not a good screenplay.
Bateman stars as Sandy Bigelow Patterson, a Denver accountant (of course, because he’s boring, he’s in accounting) who discovers that someone in Florida has stolen his identity. This person turns out to be Diana (McCarthy). The police are apparently powerless, so Sandy heads to Florida himself to bring her back to Denver and clear his name. It doesn’t take long to find her, and it doesn’t even take long to convince her to come with him – for one thing, he promises no police, he just wants her to tell his boss, who may fire him, that he didn’t do anything wrong, and for another, Diana has two drug dealers (T.I. and Genesis Rodriguez) and a bounty hunter (Robert Patrick) chasing her, for reasons I’m not entirely sure of (it doesn’t matter why they’re chasing her, just that they are). So in essence, we have a version of Midnight Run, the excellent 1988 bounty hunter comedy with Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin. Except, of course, Identity Thief isn’t funny, and Midnight Run was.
Identity Thief was a bad movie in the first and second acts. The sex jokes are tasteless, but not funny, the fat jokes are even more tasteless and unfunny, and when they combine the two of them in a sex scene between McCarthy and Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet (another fine comedic actor), the result is nearly unwatchably unfunny. I don’t really have a problem with “tasteless” comedy – but the general rule is, it has to be funny, or else it’s just juvenile at best or offensive, at worst. The first half of Identity Thief has healthy doses of both.
But the film really falls off the rails during its final act – when all of a sudden, we are supposed to feel sorry for Diana. The movie doles out one of those tragic tales that is meant to make you see Diana in an entirely different light. If movies have taught us anything, it’s that every screwed up character is screwed up because of a lousy childhood – that even people in their 40s are completely incapable of getting over. In a way, it reminded me of the indie hipster movie last year The Comedy, except McCarthy is not nearly as insufferable as the main character in that movie. But the result is the same – we’re all of a sudden supposed to see depth, and feel sympathy, for a character we’ve been led to believe is horrible. It didn’t work in The Comedy, and it doesn’t work here.
The film was directed by Seth Gordon, whose debut film was the excellent documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, about grown men who obsess about getting a high score on an old Donkey Kong arcade game. But it now appears that what he really wants to do is direct subpar comedies – there was the awful Four Christmases (with Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon), the actually enjoyable Horrible Bosses (although, I suspect, that had more to do with Spacey, Farrell and Aniston than Gordon) and now Identity Thief.
The film is a hit – I saw it weeks after it came out, and it’s already past $100 million at the box office, which pretty much confirms Bateman and McCarthy are movie stars, who can sell this type of comedy. Has anyone really enjoyed the film though? I guess there must be some, but Identity Thief isn’t even good enough to be called sitcom level comedy. It’s a confused, unfunny mess.