Identity Thief has more than a few good things going for it: it boasts a funny and talented cast, it features some amusing comedic chemistry between its two leads, and it has a plot that’s both rooted in the real world and ripe for some amusing and wacky cinematic hijinks. And yet, Seth Gordon’s latest squanders every bit of promise it has to its name, with the final product ringing up as a mostly laughless, morally questionable, and wholly unoriginal pile of boring trash. The film is purely formulaic – the sort of comedy where you can see every beat (especially the “emotional” ones) from a mile way and nothing is capable of surprise. To be sure, there are “shocking” moments – sequences of violence, poorly considered sexual escapades, and even one hell of a car accident – but none of that jolts because it’s sharp or smart or interesting, it’s all sort of stagey, like the comedic version of a horror film jump scare.
What’s most grating about Identity Thief is that it’s such a tremendous waste of time for everyone involved – from stars Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy to the very audience paying to watch it. Save your money. Keep your credit cards in your pocket. Stay home.
The plot of Identity Thief is relatively simple – that is, before screenwriter Craig Mazin apparently junked it up with all sorts of unnecessary and confusing side stories. Sandy Bigelow Patterson (Bateman) is a nice, regular guy. He has a nice, regular job at a financial management firm, and he has a nice, regular wife (Amanda Peet, who manages to excel in her slim role) and some nice, regular kids (Mary-Charles Jones and Maggie Elizabeth Jones). Things are nice. They are regular. It’s fine. Unfortunately for the real Sandy Bigelow Patterson, there’s another “Sandy Bigelow Patterson” out there – a criminal mastermind who has been stealing the identities of all kinds of people for many years so that she may buy stuff to fill the giant hole in her heart. McCarthy’s Sandy Bigelow Patterson (or “Diana,” or whatever her name is) has outfitted her life with all kinds of crap – literal and figurative – because she’s just so damn lonely.
Diana’s handiwork has ruined Sandy’s credit, and when he discovers as such (thanks to a busted credit line and a bust by the cops), he sets out on a cross-country quest to find her in Florida, capture her, and bring her back to his hometown of Denver to fess up to the cops. Wait, sorry, what? Isn’t that what credit card companies and lawyers and law enforcement is for? Not in the world of Identity Thief, where Sandy’s new job is on the line because of his bad credit and where cops advise victims to go find their assailants and no one, no one, seems to think this is a bad or dangerous or stupid idea. Let’s be clear here – this is a bad and dangerous and stupid idea.
And that’s before Sandy even meets the drug dealers that Diana is mixed up in or the insane bounty hunter (Robert Patrick) who is tracking her down. Yes, this plot was already convoluted enough, and now we’ve added in drug dealers and bounty hunters.
There are kernels of good things here, though, which is what’s so continually distressing about films of this kind. Bateman and McCarthy do have a nice comedic chemistry together, but the only time that’s really put on display is during a short scene in a roadside restaurant where they get to trade barbs (and lies) with each other while a horrified (and strangely hair-pouffed) Ellie Kemper looks on as their horrified waitress. McCarthy continues to be fearless when it comes to getting down and dirty in service to comedy, and Bateman still has his everyman charm to fall back on, but all of that proves so terribly moot in the face of such boring, poorly-written, pointless, and morally bankrupt filmmaking.
The Upside: At some point, the film ends.
The Downside: It is, frankly speaking, just wickedly unfunny. It’s also cruel and insulting and unoriginal and far, far too long. It’s not good, is what we’re trying to say here.
On the Side: After seeing McCarthy in Bridesmaids, Bateman lobbied to have his antagonist in the film, once another male, be changed to a woman so that McCarthy could potentially take the role.