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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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Wilmington

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“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
James Gray

“I’m an unusual producer because I control the destiny of a lot of the films I’ve done. Most of them are in perfect states of restoration and preservation and distribution, and I aim to keep them in distribution. HanWay Films, which is my sales company, has a 500-film catalogue, which is looked after and tended like a garden. I’m still looking after my films in the catalogue and trying to get other people to look after their films, which we represent intellectually, to try to keep them alive. A film has to be run through a projector to be alive, unfortunately, and those electric shadows are few and far between now. It’s very hard to go and see films in a movie house. I was always involved with the sales and marketing of my films, right up from The Shout onwards. I’ve had good periods, but I also had a best period because the film business was in its best period then. You couldn’t make The Last Emperor today. You couldn’t make The Sheltering Sky today. You couldn’t make those films anymore as independent films. There are neither the resources nor the vision within the studios to go to them and say, “I want to make a film about China with no stars in it.”Then, twenty years ago, I thought, “OK, I’m going to sell my own films but I don’t want to make it my own sales company.” I wanted it to be for me but I wanted to make it open for every other producer, so they don’t feel that they make a film but I get the focus. So, it’s a company that is my business and I’m involved with running it in a certain way, but I’m not seen as a competitor with other people that use it. It’s used by lots of different producers apart from me. When I want to use it, however, it’s there for me and I suppose I’m planning to continue making all my films to be sold by HanWay. I don’t have to, but I do because it’s in my building and the marketing’s here, and I can do it like that. Often, it sounds like I’m being easy about things, but it’s much more difficult than it sounds. It’s just that I’ve been at it for a long time and there’s lots of fat and security around my business. I know how to make films, but it’s not easy—it’s become a very exacting life.”
~ Producer Jeremy Thomas