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