Some bad movies are incomprehensible monuments to failure, while others are just lazy. Movie 43 offered us the horrors of that first type of cinematic crap heap a few weeks back and now along comes Identity Thief to provide a textbook example of the latter. It’s the kind of project that comes about when a studio brings together a premise and two appealing leads and then assumes the movie will take care of itself. Pitched somewhere between Midnight Run and Planes, Trains, And Automobiles without a fraction of the charm of either 80s romp, Identity Thief is a movie so desperate for ideas to pad out it’s running time that there’s actually a scene involving snakes slithering into pants that I suppose the audience is supposed to pretend they haven’t seen a bazillion and one times before. Put simply the movie just doesn’t work, but what’s most heartbreaking about the whole endeavor is the fact that there’s no reason why a movie about identity theft mixing the talents of Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman couldn’t work. This version just isn’t it.
If nothing else, you’ve got to give the filmmakers credit for diving into the movie as efficiently as possible. Within seconds of the Universal logo appearing on screen, Jason Bateman’s accounting type (the screenwriter doesn’t want you to think too hard about what Bateman does or anything else for that matter) gets a prank call from Melissa McCarthy’s con-woman saying his credit card has been compromised and asking for all his economic info to fix it. She then uses that information to make some phony credit cards and IDs to steal his identity and spend a whole bunch of money in wacky montages. How does the female McCarthy pose as the male Bateman, you ask? Why because his name is the gender neutral Sandy and you’d better find that gag funny because you’ll be hearing it a lot. So McCarthy destroys Bateman’s credit in less than a week, which is a real pain because he was just about to land that big job that he always dreamed of. Interstate policing politics mean that even though Bateman and the cops know who is responsible for the mess, it’ll be 6-8 months before anything can be resolved. So Bateman cuts one of those deals that only happen in the movies and is guaranteed that everything will be fixed if he can bring her back to Ohio within a week to confess. So he heads out to Florida to get her and they don’t get along (shocker), but she feels bad and eventually joins Bateman on for a road trip of conflicting personalities. Oh, and McCarthy’s also being pursued by two hitmen (Genesis Rodriguez and T.I.) and a bounty hunter (Robert Patrick), but I can’t really tell you why and I doubt the screenwriters could either.
As you may have noticed, that’s a hell of a lot of plot threads for one frothy comedy to juggle. The hitmen and bounty hunter subplots in particular feel left over from a previous draft of the script with a more serious tone; left in only because no one could figure out how to wrap up the plot without them. Patrick has a certain deadpan comic charm and Rodriguez is undeniably gorgeous, but they ultimately add nothing to the movie other than needlessly expanding the running time and adding tonal confusion to the movie. You see, Identity Thief was directed Seth Gordon who made a documentary so strong and hilarious (The King Of Kong) that it shot him into A-list comedy directing. Based on this and his previous features Four Christmases and Horrible Bosses, the guy clearly knows how to cast a movie and work with actors, but his storytelling abilities are far from refined. Maybe Gordon’s just been stuck with a series of crappy scripts, but every film he’s made thus far slingshots awkwardly between tones with little cohesion and Identity Thief is the worst offender thus far. At times it’s supposed to be a heartfelt dramedy about Bateman’s family, at other points it’s supposed to be a gritty comedic thriller with unexpected bursts of violence, and most of the time it’s the broadest possible form of buddy comedy. Any one of those tones is fine, but collectively they never mesh and it’s often difficult to tell how Gordon intended the viewer to respond to any given scene. Gordon should have at least tried to dictate a consistent tone for all his actors to play. He didn’t and so the movie is a big ol’ mess.
Of course all of that would merely be an unpleasant distraction if the central duo of Bateman and McCarthy nailed home enough laughs but that never happens. The stars clearly try their best, with Bateman doing his usual post-Arrested Development charmingly befuddled straight man routine (he’s kind of like an American Hugh Grant and I don’t mean that as an insult), while McCarthy throws herself into every one of her improv set-up scenes with wild, egoless abandon. The trouble is neither character is worth the effort or the squandered talent. Bateman’s on cruise control as a personality-free uptight man, while McCarthy is stuck going through a series of humiliating fat jokes that are insulting to her and any wide-load bearing audience member (did you know that fat people like to eat, can’t run, and look super gross having sex? Good, because Identity Theif will teach you those lessons many times over). Both actors coast for a while on their inherently likable screen presences, but eventually the terrible screenplay sinks them both. That’s true of the movie as a whole. For a while Identity Thief is the amusing distraction the marketing campaign promised before descending into an audience pummelling mess. It’s not really a disaster worth getting to angry about though. Sadly that exact formula of mediocrity transforming into failure plagues most mainstream comedies. Sure, Identity Thief is bad, yet you can guarantee that there will be at least a half dozen mainstream comedies equally as misconceived to come along this year (one or two will probably star Adam Sandler). I suppose if you enjoy the work of Jason Bateman or Melissa McCarthy more than life itself it’s worth a peak. Otherwise those 112 minutes would be better spend on…you know…life.