Director: Seth Gordon
Cast: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Robert Patrick
Running Time: 111 mins
Release: 22 March
An intriguing high-concept premise and respectable cast do little to salvage Identity Thief, the lowest common denominator comedy from director Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses) and writer Craig Mazin (Scary Movie 3 and 4).
Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) is a diligent family man with the world on his doorstep after he’s offered a new job and a sizable pay increase. One problem; his identity’s been stolen, and the perpetrator Diana (Melissa McCarthy)—it’s funny cause she’s a woman—has soiled Sandy’s credit and good name by maxing out his cards and getting a warrant for drug possession and assault. His shiny new life on the line, Sandy must travel to Florida to apprehend the fraudster himself and drag her back to Denver.
It’s a feisty set up, but Identity Thief boils down to an uninspired odd-couple road movie, in the vein of 2010’s Due Date or Planes, Trains and Automobiles. However McCarthy’s character isn’t a classic buffoon like Galifianakis/Candy; the film goes to great lengths to set her up as a truly despicable bitch. It’s a ballsy move, and one the succeeds far too well for the movie’s own good. As the sudden but inevitable character U-turn lands, and we are expected to sympathise with her it’s too late; the character’s already far too loathsome to be salvaged. It’s a club footed and arrogant attempt at audience manipulation that falls flat and leaves the film essentially broken.
As if Identity Thief’s last ditch attempts to make you care for McCarthy’s self serving fraudster aren’t questionable enough, it simultaneously takes the opposite tact with Bateman’s character, turning him from relatable everyman to serial idiot, as he stumbles through a thicket of unbelievably stupid decisions. As the film races towards its dramatic conclusion it’s hard not to be gobsmacked by the truly unsympathetic pairing it’s crafted.
Of course it’d be no great leap to overlook these frustrations if Identity Thief succeeded as a comedy. Sadly the humour on display runs the gamut from juvenile to outdated, with fart/fat/sex jokes being the order of the day, punctuated with antiquated musical cues that stop one step short of a remix of ‘Baby Got Back’ composed entirely of record scratches.
With such a strong cast and core idea, Identity Thief was a project that looked great on paper; unless of course that paper happened to be Mazin’s painful script. It’s another sad step into creative irrelevance for director Gordon who showed such promise with his ingenious debut The King of Kong. But he is just one of any number of talented people who are so clearly above this material. The perpetual expression of unamused frustration that Bateman sports throughout the film says it all.