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Identity Thief

Jason Bateman is one of the most underappreciated comedians in Hollywood, though he enjoys an almost cult-like following thanks to his days as Michael Bluth on TV’s Arrested Development. Melissa McCarthy is a fresh new face who wowed audiences with her hilarious performance in 2011’s Bridesmaids and who also enjoys a rather stern following thanks to her hit CBS show, Mike & Molly. Put these two talents together and you get Identity Thief, a supposed comedy that wastes both of them on a messy script that is almost completely devoid of any and all laughs. It’s a sad sight to see, such talent floundering around in such a disaster, but with the comedy genre offering little recently in the way of quality, one can only hope the two leads agreed to star because it was the only thing they were offered.

Bateman plays Sandy Patterson, a lowly businessman in Colorado who manages his company’s in-house accounts, which, as his awful boss Harold Cornish (Jon Favreau) puts it, a computer program could do. He’s not held in very high regard at his job despite his high quality of work, so when his co-worker, Daniel (John Cho), offers him a job at his new upstart company where he’ll be making five times what he’s making now, he immediately accepts. Besides, he has a loving wife (Amanda Peet) and two young children at home to take care of, with another on the way. However, he soon finds out his identity has been stolen by an unnamed woman in Florida (Melissa McCarthy) who has taken part in illegal activities, confusing police and making him the prime suspect. This doesn’t look good for the company, so he makes an agreement with his boss and the local cop (whose jurisdiction doesn’t extend beyond Denver): if he can bring this woman to Colorado and have her confess, he’ll get to keep his job and the cops can close the case. They both agree, so he jets off to Florida to find her.

What follows is a predictable movie where the two seemingly opposite, initially at odds characters spark an eventual friendship and begin to appreciate each other, yet the narrative arc to those revelations is absurd to the extreme and mixes in bounty hunters, additional identity thefts, car chases and wildlife encounters. Because the proceedings are so outlandish, it’s hard to take what’s happening seriously, even if you manage to overlook the contrived set-up that sets them off on this adventure. The two, in and of themselves, aren’t particularly interesting characters either, or at least not as a pair. She’s a loud, obnoxious and colorful (in that she wears too much make-up) bore who flails her body around trying to wring out a laugh and he is a whiny, gullible idiot. It’s his own nitwittedness that got him to this point anyway—everyone knows not to give out personal information over the phone. She has wronged him to the point where his life is crashing down. His finances are depleted and services, like cable, that we all take for granted are getting shut off, so his eventual realization that, hey, she’s not such a bad person after all is unconvincing and trite.

However, this turn doesn’t come completely out of left field; the filmmakers certainly tried to realistically get them to that point. Early in the film, for example, this unnamed woman’s friendlessness and loneliness is established, however bluntly it may be (“They’re not your friends,” a bartender says as she uses Sandy’s money to milk the bar. “They just like you because you’re buying them drinks”), yet she’s such a vindictive and selfish woman that it fails to elicit any type of caring in the viewer. If Identity Thief has about ten percent of the emotion a good drama should have, it has about two percent of the laughs of a comedy equivalent. Because the characters are so unlikable, their shenanigans are barely diverting, much less funny and the film’s humor falls flat time and time again.

Its best moment comes when the characters act like real, decent human beings (imagine that). One excellent scene forces McCarthy to show her acting chops, going from goofy to sad and back again, and she pulls it off with grace, proving she has what it takes to carry a movie, even if this one will make her detractors say otherwise. Decrease the farce and make a real movie with a real message and Identity Thief could have proven to be something interesting, a movie that warms the heart and provides occasional laughs, but its over-the-top nature proves to be its downfall. It’s neither sweet nor funny. Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy and the movie going audience deserve a whole lot better than what this has to offer.

Identity Thief receives 1/5


Gulliver's Travels

When you consider how abysmal this year’s children’s films were, movies that would otherwise be easy to scoff at begin to look pretty damn good in comparison. Maybe it’s because Furry Vengeance, Yogi Bear, Marmaduke and The Rock fluttering around in a pink tutu in Tooth Fairy all still haunt my dreams, but I found the latest kiddy flick, Gulliver’s Travels to be easily tolerable. It’s not good, but it’s not unwatchable either and in this state of children’s films, I’ll take whatever I can get.

A modern update of the classic tale by Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels stars Jack Black as Gulliver. He works in the mail room at the New York Tribune where his days are spent covering the rounds and dropping off packages. Working as a reporter at the paper is the girl of his dreams, Darcy, played by Amanda Peet. In an effort to impress her, he mentions that he likes to write in his free time and. It’s a hobby of his that he never really pursued in the job world. When she hears this, she gives him a chance to prove himself and enthusiastically asks for a writing sample. The problem is he lied and has no idea where to begin, so he instead turns in a plagiarized article. Unaware of this and impressed by his work, she gives him an assignment, a little one that will get him started. It’s a fluff piece about the Bermuda Triangle, so he hops in a boat and sets off in that direction. But suddenly, he runs into a strange whirlpool that stretches into the sky. Next thing he knows, he’s in a kingdom called Lilliput, a giant in a world of tiny people.

There’s nobody onscreen today that fits this role more than Jack Black. In all his kooky glory, he approaches the role with his trademark rock ‘n’ roll style and gives it all he’s got. He brings a certain vivacity to every movie he’s in. Sometimes, it doesn’t work (King Kong), but he’s never vexing. He has a personality that I find approachable and fun and it comes through full force in Gulliver’s Travels. His excitement bleeds through the screen and he manages to squeeze laughs out of some of the lamest jokes thanks to his excellent delivery.

The problem of the film is not in Black; it’s in pretty much everything else. It’s set in a new, undiscovered world that is devoid of whimsy or charm. Its tiny inhabitants, the most prominent of whom are played by Jason Segel and Emily Blunt, are uninteresting and their problems are slight. It’s less than an hour and a half, but it still feels too long. It utilizes “barely there” 3D technology that does nothing to make the visuals pop. And those are only the most noticeable problems. Once Gulliver decides to put out a fire by urinating on it (despite there being a giant ocean nearby), you realize that the film has no greater aspirations than to make kids laugh with the barest and most immature tactics available.

As I sit here and struggle to come up with kind words to say about Gulliver’s Travels, I find it increasingly difficult. The nicest thing I can say about it is I didn’t hate it, which is due to no particular reason. It’s not like the screenplay is any good or the acting award worthy or the cinematography exquisite. Rather, it’s an alarmingly bland film by traditional film critiquing standards, but to compare this to The Godfather would be silly. One cannot expect excellence in a kid-targeted film starring Jack Black at his goofiest. If you can keep that notion floating in the back of your mind as you watch it, you might come to enjoy the zaniness in what may be the best “just for kids” movie to be released this year.

Gulliver’s Travels receives 2.5/5