Director: Seth Gordon
MPAA Rating: R
Identity Thief intends to show us how wrong it is to claim to be something you’re not – and it succeeds by showing us how wrong it is to claim to be entertaining when you’re anything but. The film advertised as a potentially funny popcorn flick with promising leads is, in reality, an hour-and-a-half of fat jokes, bland characters, and a clumsy plot that will leave you feeling more concerned about the motivations of these writers than the dangers of identity theft.
For a movie whose sole moral backbone is the virtue of honest identity, Identity Thief does a pretty poor job of deciding what it wants to be. The film tells the story of good-guy Sandy Bigelow Patterson (Bateman) who loses his job when a woman named Diane (McCarthy) begins using his identity to cover up her crimes. The first act features Sandy getting arrested, losing his job, and abandoning his two daughters and pregnant-wife in Colorado (hilarious, right?) before driving across the country to get revenge on the thief. Once the comic potential of this premise is used up (which takes about fifteen minutes), the flick descends into a haphazard roadtrip picture that dedicates more time to sex jokes and chase scenes than it does to the development of the relationship between the two protagonists.
While Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy did what they could to keep the film moving forward, an entire cast of forgettable side-characters failed to add realism to an already unconvincing plot. In a blatantly desperate attempt to keep the audience engaged beyond the first half hour, the script throws in half-baked subplots involving a bounty hunter, Mexican drug lords, and horribly CGI’d snakes that only really become scary when you realize that they were actually intended to be climactic plot points.
With nothing mildly entertaining about the supporting characters and subplots, the mostly physical humor comes from interspersed sex jokes, fat jibes, and general moments of slobber comedy. Bateman’s deadpan expressions and well-placed sarcasm keep things rolling, but his character arc is 100% predictable, with a personality identical to his roles in Horrible Bosses, The Change Up, and Couples Retreat. Even McCarthy, Hollywood’s current queen of slapstick, fell short of eliciting laughs at least half of the time. To be fair, they were both relying on a script that tried to draw humor out of near-death violence and projectile vomiting. (For those who don’t know, it’s a general rule of the universe that there is no such thing as a good comedy with a projectile vomiting scene. This one has two.)
In the end, Identity Thief not only teaches us that criminal behavior can be effectively corrected by taking thieves on road trips, but it also provides us with another shining example of a comedy that features its only comedic moments in the trailer. While this movie doesn’t succeed in terms of entertainment, direction, or writing, it certainly succeeds in making you understand what it feels like to be robbed of your time, money, and intelligence.