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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on Movies: Identity Thief

IDENTITY THIEF (One and a Half Stars)
U.S.: Seth Gordon, 2013.

Identity Thief is one of those  movies that goes wrong early and never gets itself right : a glossy, messy,  awful comedy about identity theft, starring Jason Bateman as the victim Sandy Bigelow Patterson, and Melissa McCarthy as his nemesis “Sandy Bigelow Patterson“ — the mysterious woman who‘s spending all his money, maxing all his credits cards and ruining his whole damn life.

The movie was directed by Seth Gordon, who guided Bateman in another ridiculous and mean-spirited comedy, Horrible Bosses, and this picture seems a bit of an identity thief itself (as many critics have pointed out). Midnight Run is one victim, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is another, and Dumb and Dumber is yet another, with a lot of other road movies looted along the way.

Despite a good cast and a capable crew, it’s a stinker. The script is predictable and  senseless. The visual gags are dopey and garish, and they come at you like a storm of whoopee cushions. At one point, a snake crawls down Bateman/Sandy’s pants, maybe looking for some good lines. At another, McCarthy/Sandy has a misbegotten hotel orgy with Eric Stonestreet as the rowdy, big-bellied “Big Chuck.”  And, through all this certifiable inanity, the two Sandys mop up clichés on the road, where they’re mysteriously joined by two hit-persons (played by T. P.  a.k.a. Tip Harris, and Genesis Rodriguez)  and a violent skip tracer (Robert Patrick), all waving guns. I know it’s a cliché these days, but this movie makes no f–king  sense. Worse, it isn’t very funny.

But, if Identity Thief the movie is almost hysterically awful, the actors — Bateman, McCarthy, Stonestreet  and several of the others — somewhat redeem it. (That’s a big somewhat, though.) If Melissa McCarty didn’t exist, she’s probably have to be invented: She’s close to the ultimate brassy, bouncy, comical tough gal and a half, a triumph of hard-edged personality over the usual vacuous movie prettiness. I hate to say it, but in a way, she’s the Chris Christie of the top American movie and TV comediennes. (And I mean that as an insult neither to Christie nor Melissa.)

In Bridesmaids, a movie where everyone was good, McCarthy still managed to heist a hefty chunk  of the  picture, by giving writer-star Kristen Wiig‘s maladjusted maid of honor a lesson in chutzpah and raw resilience we won’t forget soon. In Life is 40, she out-funnied any two 20s you can name. Here, McCarthy steps out of supporting buddyhood for a while to take a lead, though it’s not really a romantic lead. (It’s a John Candy-style lead). And she plays her part as well as it could be played — which I realize is no huge achievement.

The movie begins with that falsely promising scene when Diana calls up Bateman‘s pushover business  guy, Sandy, in Denver (Diana is in Winter Park, Florida) and artfully pretends to be an anti-identity thief operative, thereby snookering him out of his social security number. The phony Sandy  then goes on a shopaholic’s rampage, just at the touchy moment when the real Sandy is driven  to leave his old corporation (partly run by Jon Favreau as a smirking, bonus-happy Ayn Rand fan named Cornish) in order to help start a new one, at the behest of  Daniel Casey (played, daringly off-type, by Korean-American actor John Cho).

Suddenly, as happens with these infuriating identity crimes, Sandy‘s world goes ka-flooey. When his alter-ego’s shopping spree (plus a violent altercation and arrest) comes to light, the cops show up at his new company (including a very suave Morris Chestnut as Detective Reilly). Suddenly Sandy goes from six figure salary business wunderkind, to a schmo-in-dutch with a bunch of maxed and worthless Visa and Mastercards, all thanks to Diana and his own dopey indiscretion.

Up to that point, Identity Thief actually looks as if it might be a good movie, or  at least a bad funny one. I was actually looking forward to it. (The more fool me.)  But then, in a bewildering, mind-numbing  plot twist that bewilders and mind-numbs me still, natty Denver Detective Reilly  explains that his hands are tied, that these cases take forever, and he can’t somehow co-operate with the Florida cops (or the credit card companies) to stop Diana  running wild with Sandy’s card. Instead, in one of the more flabbergasting plans since Howard Roark blew up his own building in Cornish‘s favorite novel, “The Fountainhead,” Sandy, one of the last guys you’d want to send on a cross-country pickup of a psychopath, drives off, in all his obvious street-unwisdom, to  find the credit swindler, bring her back, and get her to confess to his bosses.

 

This bizarre twist and what went on before has the effect of making the police look ridiculous and the credit industry impotent and Sandy‘s boss Casey like some kind of clown with an Irish fixation. But it does allow screenwriter  Craig Mazin (who has committed a couple of Scary Movies and The Hangover 2) to pull his big heist. Identity Thief, which probably should have stayed in Winter Park, becomes a cross-country road movie, swiping the identities of, among many others, the aforementioned Midnight Ride and Planes, Trains and Automobiles — two movies so infinitely superior to Identity Thief, that multiplexes might be well-advised to sell DVDs of them in the lobby, with a big sign reading “See how it looks when it’s done right.“

Indeed, Mazin and Gordon jam in so much laughlessly derivative humor, pseudo-sentiment, mean gags and bursts of phony schmaltz that the movie almost always seems like some other movie that just wandered in, spewing  imitations of the Farrelly Brothers or their imitators on a bad day.  The ending, both shmaltzy and cynical, is as wrong-headed as everything else.

 

Bateman, who also co-produced, gives this nonsense his all. He plays it harried and he plays it lightly sarcastic and he manfully endures every bad joke, sucker punch and snake flung at him — while validating his upper-middle class normality, with a nice little Denver family back home consisting of wife Trish (Amanda Peet) and two cute daughters (Mary-Charles and Maggie Elizabeth Jones). Bateman looks like the kind of guy who’d have a family like that, if not like the kind of guy who‘d give his social security number to a total stranger on the phone.  Nor does McCarthy really seem the sort who’d get on the wrong side, all at once, of a lot of mobsters, hit-persons (T. I., a.k.a. Tip Harris and Genesis Rodriguez) and violent skip tracers (Robert Patrick).

 

But, bad as this script and movie are  — and they’re so bad, they almost make The Guilt Trip look good –  the actors sometimes pump it up and squeeze out some laughs, especially McCarthy, with her pink cupcake of a house, her loud trumpeting laughs, her nonstop cons and her favorite maneuver when hassled: a quick chop to the throat.

But I hope McCarthy doesn’t make any more movies like this, even if  Jason Bateman gets down on his knees and begs. You can tell why he’d want to. With the right script, McCarthy is an actress who steals shows, effortlessly. She’s a classic loud , unrestrained, deliberately obnoxious comedienne, and Bateman may be classic straight man. But unfortunately. if Identity Thief is classic anything, it’s a classic fiasco. A screaming pink one.

 

4 Responses to “Wilmington on Movies: Identity Thief”

  1. movieman says:

    I’m surprised Universal hasn’t already announced a sequel.
    You know it’s coming.

  2. Terry Fleming says:

    A stinker. I laughed twice, If I had been in an empty room I probably would have laughed twice.

  3. mel says:

    This movie was hilarious! Get over yourself.

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“Yes, good movies sprout up, inevitably, in the cracks and seams between the tectonic plates on which all of these franchises stay balanced, and we are reassured of their hardiness. But we don’t see what we don’t see; we don’t see the effort, or the cost of the effort, or the movies of which we’re deprived because of the cost of the effort. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice may have come from a studio, but it still required a substantial chunk of outside financing, and at $35 million, it’s not even that expensive. No studio could find the $8.5 million it cost Dan Gilroy to make Nightcrawler. Birdman cost a mere $18 million and still had to scrape that together at the last minute. Imagine American movie culture for the last few years without Her or Foxcatcher or American Hustle or The Master or Zero Dark Thirty and it suddenly looks markedly more frail—and those movies exist only because of the fairy godmothership of independent producer Megan Ellison. The grace of billionaires is not a great business model on which to hang the hopes of an art form.”
~ Mark Harris On The State Of The Movies

How do you make a Top Ten list? For tax and organizational purposes, I keep a log of every movie I see (Title, year, director, exhibition format, and location the film was viewed in). Anything with an asterisk to the left of its title means it’s a 2014 release (or something I saw at a festival which is somehow in play for the year). If there’s a performance, or sequence, or line of dialogue, even, that strikes me in a certain way, I’ll make a note of it. So when year end consideration time (that is, the month and change out of the year where I feel valued) rolls around, it’s a little easier to go through and pull some contenders for categories. For 2014, I’m voting in three polls: Indiewire, SEFCA (my critics’ guild), and the Muriels. Since Indiewire was first, it required the most consternation. There were lots of films that I simply never had a chance to see, so I just went with my gut. SEFCA requires a lot of hemming and hawing and trying to be strategic, even though there’s none of the in-person skullduggery that I hear of from folk whose critics’ guild is all in the same city. The Muriels is the most fun to contribute to because it’s after the meat market phase of awards season. Also, because it’s at the beginning of next year, I’ll generally have been able to see everything I wanted to by then. I love making hierarchical lists, partially because they are so subjective and mercurial. Every critical proclamation is based on who you are at that moment and what experiences you’ve had up until that point. So they change, and that’s okay. It’s all a weird game of timing and emotional waveforms, and I’m sure a scientist could do an in-depth dissection of the process that leads to the discovery of shocking trends in collective evaluation. But I love the year end awards crush, because I feel somewhat respected and because I have a wild-and-wooly work schedule that has me bouncing around the city to screenings, or power viewing the screeners I get sent.
Jason Shawhan of Nashville Scene Answers CriticWire