Directed by Seth Gordon
Somebody stole the funny out of this Identity Thief’s wallet.
Identity Thief is a toothless, witless comedy that, despite moments of crassness, vulgarity, and violence, still manages to play it safe at almost every turn.
Jason Bateman, who teamed with director Seth Gordon on Horrible Bosses last year, deserves better. He’s always likeable. He always has been. But even he can’t elevate this stupid comedy to a shoe-size IQ.
Bateman plays a man named Sandy Bigelow Patterson, a Denver resident whose identity has been stolen by a woman named Diana (Melissa McCarthy, TV’s Mike & Molly) living in Winter Park, Fla. When Diana’s not busy buying blenders and spa visits on other people’s dime, she supplies fraudulent credit cards to gangsters. That’s the setup, ladies and gentlemen. And from there ensues all sorts of mayhem while Sandy attempts to corral Diana for some Mile High justice.
Blame it on either classic writer’s block or, more likely, a complete and utter lack of creativity, but Identity Thief is bankrupt of ideas. Given the high profile security breaches and the very real threat of ID theft, this could’ve been a timely comedic masterpiece, a vociferous social commentary that packed a wallop.
Instead, this movie is modern flubber. It bounces around with no real rhyme or reason. For example, take Sandy’s boss, Daniel (John Chu, Star Trek), a supposedly sharp business financier. The guy’s worked with Sandy long enough and knows him well enough that he invites Sandy to join a new startup wherein Sandy will earn five times his current salary. But, boy, when Sandy’s credit rating heads south, Daniel gets all wee-wee’d up and ready to show Sandy the door. Daniel seems perplexed by the notion of identity theft; it’s as if he’s never even heard of it.
Sympathy for the Slob
But there’s a bigger problem with this paean to American excess. Seldom has character development been more nauseating and manipulative.
Instead of allowing Diana to be a purely evil character, she is at turns devilish and sympathetic, or at least what passes as sympathetic. This gives McCarthy the juicy role some might peg as breakout caliber, hoisting her above TV land and elevating her to big screen stardom. It doesn’t quite work, though. McCarthy is gregarious, but this movie is so bad, she’s more of an irritation than a revelation.
It doesn’t help matters that the story develops a mildly violent streak thanks to those aforementioned gangsters, led by a kingpin from behind bars. They’re ticked that Diana’s supplied them with – gasp – bogus fraudulent credit cards and they want her to pay up.
In the thick of the madness, Diana gets hit by a car and bounces around like a Looney Tunes character, but that’s a small taste of outlandishness that never goes anywhere. Perhaps the writers (Craig Mazin, who wrote the equally unimaginative The Hangover Part II, and Jerry Eeten, whose only other feature is the previously unheard of Elvis Took a Bullet) should’ve pursued that angle with full force. Make Diana dirty. Make her irredeemably nasty, an unrepentant bitch.
Maybe that’s too gutsy for 2013 audiences to handle.
Girl on Fire
As it stands, things bog down in a dopey sappiness the magnitude of which hasn’t been seen in quite some time. It gets so bad the syrupy stickiness of sap covers the theater floor by the time it’s all over. The mix of sap, nachos shrapnel, and overly buttered popcorn make exiting the theater a second endurance challenge. The first challenge is simply to sit through this mucky movie.
Diana is portrayed as a victim of society, a victim of poor parenting, a victim of greed. When she buys everybody in the bar bottomless drinks using Sandy’s plastic, she revels in the attention. Until, that is, the bartender points out she doesn’t really have any friends; people are hanging out with her for the free drinks.
She’s a victim while Sandy is merely a chump. At one point Sandy even admits that maybe his life needed to get messed up. What’s worse is his acknowledgement that “she’s not a bad person.”
Whatever, Sandy. That’s exactly the kind of overly-forgiving sentiment that makes you a chump.
It’s still early in the year, but Identity Thief is sure to wind up on the short list of 2013’s most annoying movies.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.